Quintana dazzles in ‘unbelievable’ Cubs debut to beat O’s for sweep

BALTIMORE — Is it too soon to say the Cubs won the Jose Quintana trade? Maybe.

But Quintana’s dominant debut with the Cubs on Sunday against the Orioles finally gave them a tangible reason to think their rotation might have enough in the second half to have a chance to chase down the first-place Brewers in the National League Central.

‘‘It can really be a big boon to us,’’ manager Joe Maddon said after Quintana’s 8-0 victory gave the Cubs a three-game sweep to open their post-All-Star-break schedule.

With fans holding up ‘‘Welcome’’ signs and Colombian flags, the left-handed Quintana was overpowering in his first start since the Cubs acquired him from the White Sox in a five-player deal Thursday. He allowed three hits, struck out 12 and walked none in seven innings.

Quintana delivered a career high in strikeouts and the Cubs' second straight quality start.

‘‘Unbelievable,’’ third baseman Kris Bryant said.

The 12 strikeouts tied Matt Garza’s record for a Cubs debut. They also were a season high for Quintana, whose career high is 13.

Quintana also joined Randy Johnson (1998 Mariners and Astros) as the only pitchers since 1900 to notch 10 or more strikeouts in back-to-back games for different teams.

‘‘Today was his day,’’ catcher Willson Contreras said. ‘‘He impressed everyone.’’

The effort earned Quintana his first postgame dousing by teammates in their victory party.

‘‘I’m freezing, but I’m happy,’’ a smiling Quintana said. ‘‘It’s really special.’’

Quintana said he was ‘‘a little nervous in the first inning. But after a couple of throws, I threw everything out and just focused on my game.’’

The nerves didn’t prevent him from striking out Adam Jones to start the Orioles’ first or from retiring the first nine batters he faced.

‘‘It obviously just gives us that extra confidence,’’ Bryant said of adding Quintana, an All-Star last season, to the rotation after a disappointing first half. ‘‘We have a lot of the same core that we had last year when we won the whole thing, and to add him for the next three years [thanks to two team options], too, is great. We all feel really great about that, obviously, seeing what he did today.’’

If Quintana gave the Cubs the boost they were looking for, their hitters reciprocated with a rare-for-Quintana flurry of run support. Quintana, whose 95 quality starts since the beginning of 2013 ranked second in the American League when the Cubs traded for him, also ranked second in the AL during that span in worst run support (3.95 runs per nine innings).

He got more than that in the second alone, when the Cubs started the inning with four hits and batted around for four runs against Ubaldo Jimenez. They added two more run on Bryant’s 19th home run in the fourth for a 6-0 lead.

Quintana had received that much run support while in the game only three times in 18 starts for the Sox this season.

‘‘That’s in the past for me now,’’ Quintana said. ‘‘I’m just focused here to keep doing my job, and that’s it.’’

Maddon, who said he liked Quintana’s ‘‘method’’ and focus as much as his stuff, took notice of what Quintana did with the lead, striking out four of the next five hitters.

‘‘Everybody else saw it; all the other starters saw it,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘There was no messing around. There were no walks, no bad counts. He made them put the ball in play and was punching guys out. He gets two strikes, and he was burying the curve and elevating with the fastball. He just did everything really well.

‘‘From his perspective, coming over from the White Sox to the Cubs in the middle of the season, there’s got to be something going
on in there, and he handled it extremely well.’’

Maddon, who said he liked Quintana’s ‘‘method’’ and focus as much as his stuff, took notice of what Quintana did with the lead, striking out four of the next five hitters.

‘‘Everybody else saw it; all the other starters saw it,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘There was no messing around. There were no walks, no bad counts. He made them put the ball in play and was punching guys out. He gets two strikes, and he was burying the curve and elevating with the fastball. He just did everything really well.

‘‘From his perspective, coming over from the White Sox to the Cubs in the middle of the season, there’s got to be something going
on in there, and he handled it extremely well.’’

Follow me on Twitter at @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Willson Contreras after Cubs pound Orioles in sweep: ‘We’re back’

John Lackey to the pen? Who would tell him? ‘My God,’ Maddon says

Previously from Sports