ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — He wasn’t perfect, but Jose Quintana looked calm and collected on Tuesday night.
And a confident Quintana is exactly what White Sox Land needed right now.
Quintana was highly effective against the Tampa Bay Rays as he bounced back from the worst back-to-back outings of his career. The left-hander’s performance as well as a strong effort from the bullpen and solo home runs from Avisail Garcia and Todd Frazier led the White Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in front of 14,590 at Tropicana Field. The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the White Sox.
“(Quintana) turned it up a notch,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He didn’t want to come out. He wanted to stay in there. But he gave us a great outing.”
One of the most consistent pitchers in baseball the past four seasons, Quintana’s previous two outings raised serious questions after he got hit hard in consecutive turns. He allowed 15 earned runs in a combined seven innings against Arizona and Boston, which raised his earned-run average from 3.92 to 5.60.
But more than the damage against Quintana, it was how it happened that had everyone puzzled. Known for his pinpoint command and ability to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate, Quintana made location mistakes right and left and opposing hitters took advantage.
Anything left over the middle was hit hard as Quintana gave up 18 hits in the two games.
He was upset enough with himself after he took the loss in last Tuesday’s showdown with Chris Sale to say he was “embarrassed” by the performance. He also said he needed to review footage of what he was doing, something he rarely does.
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All week, teammates said they thought Quintana would bounce back, that he was merely passing through a difficult period.
“He’s always pitching good,” said Yolmer Sanchez, who led off the game with a controversial home run off Chris Archer. “A lot of people go through a tough time, but he’s going to be good. He always pitches like he pitched. We know what he can do.
“He always had good numbers, but I know he can be better than that. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
As evidenced by his 114 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, Quintana didn’t have it easy. But he also didn’t allow much in the way of hard contact as he spotted his fastballs low and on the edges. Of the 13 balls put into play against Quintana, only four had better than a 25 percent chance of being a hit (three were), according to BaseballSavant.com. Only one of those four was hit in the air, which is in sharp contrast to the four combined homers Quintana allowed over his previous two starts.
Quintana allowed a run on two hits in the first inning but settled in from there. He began to spot his fastball, which induced a number of grounders or weak pop outs. But Quintana also ran a high pitch count, reaching 80 after four innings. He pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth with a strikeout of Logan Morrison, one of four called third-strikes he earned. He also got another big out in the sixth when he struck out Rickie Weeks with two in scoring position before giving way to the bullpen. Chris Beck escaped a bases-loaded jam with a double play ball.
The effort marked a much-needed step in the right direction for Quintana, who allowed a run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked four, one intentionally.
“Command,” Quintana said. “Hit my spots better. Threw a lot of fastballs today. Confident in all my pitches. I needed this outing (to be) better than the last ones and to get a ‘W’ for my team. That’s most important here. But different – fastballs were good. And hit the corners better.
“I had a couple of walks to leadoff innings. But I pitched good in situations. I think that was the best point for this game.”
The bullpen followed Quintana with 3 2/3 strong innings. Beck rebounded from a 3-0 count against Jesus Sucre to induce the inning-ending double play. Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson combined to record the final nine outs.
The White Sox offense did a good job adding on after Garcia put them ahead for good in the seventh with a 434-foot drive to left off Chris Archer. Garcia ripped a 1-0 slider from Archer, his moonshot exiting the bat at 112 mph.
The White Sox weren’t done yet as Jose Abreu gave them a 3-1 lead with a two-out RBI single in the eighth off Tommy Hunter. Frazier’s 430-foot solo shot banged off the back wall in center and opened up a 4-2 lead.
Sanchez opened the game with a 368-foot drive to center off Archer that clearly hit something, causing the ball to bounce in the opposite direction. Though Sanchez stood on third, umpires originally ruled the ball a home run and replay officials said the call stood.
“I didn’t see if the ball hit something,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know, but it was good for me.”