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Steady Jose Quintana quietly becoming elite-level pitcher

Could Quintana develop into an ace?

Updated: July 18, 2014 10:20PM

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper was talking about one of his favorite subjects — Chris Sale — recently, but it didn’t take him long to bring Jose Quintana into the conversation.

Sale is the ace, the one Cooper says “makes me look like a much better pitching coach.” Quintana is his second-best pitcher who has quietly ascended into one of baseball’s best. An All-Star, no, but Quintana is in the cut below and knocking at the door.

“I don’t think you guys watch [Quintana] enough,’’ Cooper said.

Let’s take a look.

In his first season in 2012, Quintana made 22 starts and had a 3.76 ERA in 1361/3 innings. Last season, he lowered his ERA to 3.51 and raised his starts to 33 and innings to 200. Going into his start Friday against the Houston Astros at U.S. Cellular Field, Quintana has a 3.24 ERA, one of several numbers that has steadily improved along with his WHIP, strikeouts per nine innings and FIP (fielding independent pitching).

Over the last two years combined, FanGraphs ranks Quintana 10th in the American League among pitchers in wins above replacement, the metric that summarizes a player’s total contribution to his team.

Quintana (5-7 this season, 20-20 career) had an AL-record 17 no-decisions last season but never gripes about it. His demeanor and presence on the mound are as low-key and steady as the consistent, repeatable delivery that serves as the foundation of his success.

His fastball averages 91 mph, a few ticks lower than Sale’s, and whether it’s hit for a home run or produces a strikeout, the Colombian-born Quintana’s reaction is almost always the same. Raise glove, receive ball and throw the next pitch. Cooper loves that Quintana wants to face the best teams and pitch in big games.

“I love the kid,’’ Cooper said. “This guy is growing more and more. He’s going to be the best he can be before it’s all said and done. He’s going to get the most out of the ability and talent God gave him because he works hard, he’s prepared, he doesn’t miss a trick and if you tell him something one time, you don’t tell him again.’’

Quintana said his knowledge and confidence grow with each start. He’s throwing his cutter to both sides of the plate more and is still commanding his fastball with the best of them.

“The fastball for a strike is the best pitch for any pitcher,’’ Quintana said.

For Quintana, 25, as well as the Sox organization, it has been a nice, steady climb since he was signed as a minor-league free agent before the 2012 season after the New York Yankees left him off their 40-man roster. He and Sale are two months apart in age and are both under team control with long-term, multimillion-dollar deals signed before they hit free agency. Two club options could keep Quintana in a Sox uniform through 2020 under terms of a deal that could total $26.5 million.

“The contract allows me to be more relaxed about the future off the field,’’ Quintana said. “My family is safe right now. I can focus 100 percent on the game only, on pitching, working hard and for the opportunity to help this team go to the playoffs.’’

NOTES: The Sox signed right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, 34, as a minor-league free agent and assigned him to Class AAA Charlotte. Wang, who had back-to-back 19-win seasons with the Yankees in 2006 and ’07, went 8-5 with a 3.70 ERA for Class AAA Louisville before opting out of his contract with the Cincinnati Reds recently.

◆ The Sox traded right-hander Dylan Axelrod to the Reds. Axelrod, 28, who pitched at Charlotte this season, was 7-13 with a 5.36 ERA over parts of three seasons with the Sox. Deunte Heath, 28, was released and will pitch in Japan. Heath pitched in eight games over the last two seasons for the Sox.


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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