Don Cooper

Jose Quintana has a plan to combat excitement surrounding postseason debut

Jose Quintana has a plan to combat excitement surrounding postseason debut

One of baseball’s best kept secrets is about to step into the October spotlight for the very first time and everyone wonders how he’ll handle the moment.

Even though Jose Quintana has never pitched in the postseason, he said the key to his debut on Monday in Game 3 of the National League Division Series will be to keep things simple.

Prior to Sunday afternoon’s brunch-out at Wrigley Field, Quintana said he spent the previous two games soaking up the playoff atmosphere and taking notes from veteran teammates. The Cubs’ key midseason acquisition expects to be excitable when he faces Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals in front of a sellout crowd at Wrigley Field with the series tied 1-1. But Quintana also believes that all that matters is if hit his spots and stays out of the middle of the zone.

“I feel really good,” Quintana said. “I’m so excited. I try to be like, you know, cool, but be present and focus on my game.

“Like I say, I don’t want to change nothing. Just throw my ball well and just focus, pitch by pitch. At this time, a short series, it’s really important, every pitch.”

Quintana’s only other opportunity to reach the postseason in five seasons was with the 2012 White Sox, whose position players were beat up and its rotation simply ran out of gas in September. Even though this type of start is exactly why the Cubs made a blockbuster to acquire him, shipping elite hitting prospect Eloy Jimenez and hard-throwing righty Dylan Cease to the White Sox in July, it’s only natural to wonder how Quintana will fare. The 2017 postseason has been largely unkind to first-time starting pitchers so far as Arizona’s Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker, Boston’s Chris Sale and Colorado’s Jon Gray were all hit hard in their October debuts.

But the left-hander has come close to replicating a similar atmosphere when he pitched for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic against Team USA on March 11, retiring the first 17 hitters he faced.  

Beyond that, Quintana pitched extremely well down the stretch for the Cubs during their drive to the NL Central title. Manager Joe Maddon cited Quintana’s brilliant Sept. 24 turn at Milwaukee when he struck out 10 during a three-hit shutout as evidence he’s ready. Quintana went 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA and 45 strikeouts with only four walks in 38 1/3 innings over his final six starts.

“I don’t want to keep going back in time, but that four-game series up there was really pertinent,” Maddon said. “He had a great look. I can only tell you --- we’re all into reading people’s faces and their vibe and their energy and all that stuff. And he had it. He has it. My only concern is that he’s over-amped a little bit too much, too soon tomorrow afternoon. But he’s wanted to be this guy.”

Similar to Sale, Quintana has always desired this moment. Reaching the postseason has been his goal every season from the first time he plays catch in spring training to his first bullpen to the first start. Quintana’s laser focus in between starts always made him an easy example for White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper to use as a model for his other pitchers to follow. It also contributed to the pinpoint command that has allowed him to excel as a big leaguer.

[MORE: 6 main NLDS takeaways heading into Cubs-Nationals Game 3

His former catch partner with the White Sox, pitcher Carlos Rodon, said that even during a simple warmup drill, Quintana always tried to hit an invisible circle between his legs at knee-high level.

That “focused practice,” as Cooper calls it, has always helped Quintana stay dialed in during trying moments. It’ll likely be critical once again when Quintana takes the hill on Monday against a team he’s never faced before.

“The approach never changes,” Quintana said. “I saw that with (Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester) and watching around the field in Washington was great. It’s exciting.

“John Lackey told me the last couple days, try to do your job. Just hit your spots and never change. The game’s the same and you’re going to feel the energy around you, so it’s really exciting. I’ve never seen games like this, and it’s really fun.” 

'Improved' Juan Minaya adds split-fingered fastball to repertoire

minaya.jpg
USA TODAY

'Improved' Juan Minaya adds split-fingered fastball to repertoire

The White Sox wanted Juan Minaya to add another pitch when he casually mentioned a few weeks back he throws a split-fingered fastball.

The hope is to another pitch could help the rookie reliever improve against left-handed hitters. Minaya -- who has converted seven of eight saves with 49 strikeouts and a 4.75 ERA in 41 2/3 innings -- threw a split-finger fastball when he pitched in the Houston Astros farm system. But Minaya said the Astros thought he threw it too hard and discouraged its use. The White Sox are more than happy to have Minaya be able to attack another quadrant.

“The (changeup/split-fingered fastball) has been a nice addition,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “We’re also trying to get him better and more consistent with his breaking stuff.

“Minaya has probably been one of the most improved guys, from the moment we picked him up from Houston, getting his delivery better. He’s throwing more strikes than he ever has with all of his pitches and the delivery enables that.”

Minaya, 27, hasn’t been scored upon in his last five appearances, though Avisail Garcia bailed him out with an assist on a wild game-ending play on Friday night.

Part of that success has come from the addition of the split-fingered fastball, which Minaya has thrown 16 times this month. Before September, Minaya had thrown the pitch only 11 times at the big-league level.

[MORE: Where does Jose Abreu fit in long-term plans?]

Minaya already throws a four-seam fastball, curve and a slider. But the split gives him a secondary pitch for lefties, who have an .829 OPS against Minaya this season.

“You can see he has confidence in it because he’s shaking to it a lot, which I love,” said catcher Kevan Smith. “He needed to throw that off his fastball. He has more than above average breaking stuff, but he broke it out a few weeks ago and we were like, ‘You’ve been holding out on us all season with that.’ That’s just going to bring more value to him, make more effective. A little more confident and successful.”

With the team’s entire original bullpen cast either traded or injured, Minaya has temporarily been thrust into the closer’s role. The mild-mannered righty has handled the ninth as well as could be expected and has shown the White Sox he has the stuff to potentially help out in the bullpen moving forward. Minaya would like to improve his fastball command but is pleased with how he’s handled a tricky situation. He’s also glad to have the White Sox supporting him throwing the split-fingered fastball.

“The other day I was talking with Coop and he said you need to get another pitch for lefties,” Minaya said. “I said I can throw the split, but I throw it hard. He said OK and I started throwing.

“The ninth inning is a tough inning, but you have to go out and compete.”

Why White Sox decided now is right time to shut down Lucas Giolito's season

Why White Sox decided now is right time to shut down Lucas Giolito's season

Lucas Giolito’s next start won’t occur until spring training 2018.

The White Sox announced Tuesday plans to shut down their rookie pitcher for the season after he reached an unofficial inning limit. Promoted to the majors last month, Giolito combined to pitch 174 innings between the White Sox and Triple-A Charlotte. Along with an increased output from 136 2/3 innings last season, Giolito has pitched so well the White Sox see no reason to have him make another start. 

“There’s nothing left to prove this year,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “There’s nothing really to gain. It couldn’t have gone better. I don’t think his first trip to the big leagues with us could have went any better. He’s got his blueprint. You look at all of the games, just about every one of them have been really good.”

The club also announced that James Shields has made his last start of 2017. Shields is set to have PRP shots to combat tendonitis in both knees.

Giolito hoped to face the Cleveland Indians on Friday night. He looked forward to the challenge of facing the winningest American League team and said the news is a little bittersweet, though he totally understands why.

But he’s also very pleased with a season in which he’s experienced it all. Giolito struggled at the outset and lost his lofty status as the top pitching prospect in baseball. Somewhere along the way, however, Giolito rediscovered his confidence and soared. He went 3-3 with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts with the White Sox and finished the season with a combined 168 strikeouts. Giolito also recorded a seven-inning no-hitter at Triple-A Charlotte.

“This was such a crazy year,” Giolito said. “I started not the way I wanted to. I had to kind of get over some trials and tribulations down in the minor leagues trying to fix some things, trying to find myself and see who I was as a pitcher. To get the opportunity up here in late August, I knew that it’s a special opportunity so I wanted to take it and run with it and I’m glad I was able to put together some good starts for the club.

“It’s understandable that 175 they wanted to cap me off. When they first told me, it was kind of like bittersweet. I wanted to take the ball against the Indians. I want to pitch against the best.

“But at the same time, I completely understand the process of everything. I’m pleased with where I’m at.”

The White Sox are very satisfied to see how Giolito has developed in his first season after coming over from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal. They see the confidence he’s gained and Cooper is pleased to see Giolito taking advantage of his 6-foot-6 frame and confusing hitters by throwing from a higher angle. Manager Rick Renteria thinks Giolito took some critical steps in 2017 and has set himself up well to have success next season.

“He’s done a fantastic job,” Renteria said. “There’s no reason for us to continue to push him beyond where he’s at. He’s on pace hopefully for us to maybe reach the 200-inning marker next year.

“Right now, he’s in a good place.”

Shields ended his season in the most consistent place he’s been in with the White Sox in some time. The right-hander adjusted to throwing from a three-quarters angle midway through an Aug. 5 start. In nine turns since, Shields posted a 4.31 ERA and struck out 53 batters in 54 1/3 innings.

The White Sox haven't announced who will start in Giolito's place on Friday. Chris Volstad is expected to go in the season finale on Sunday instead of Shields.