Jose Quintana embraces ‘pressure’ as Cub teammates embrace Quintana

BALTIMORE — When Cubs manager Joe Maddon met with Jose Quintana on Friday, he told his new left-hander he has few team rules and advised him to just be himself.

And then this: “I told him he’s got a great opportunity to impact this team in the second half,” Maddon said. “And when you say that, some guys give you the wrong look. He was very good with that thought. He was very comfortable with that thought.”

It wasn’t small talk.

Quintana, 28, is going just a few miles, from one side of town to the other, after Thursday’s unusual blockbuster trade between city rivals. But make no mistake: He’s also going to a different baseball universe after spending the last 5½ seasons in the baseball shadows of Chicago toiling for a White Sox team with a fraction of the fan base, national attention and media scrutiny that his new club has.

Jose Quintana pitching for the White Sox at Wrigley Field last season.

“You’re always concerned about who accepts the word ‘pressure’ well or not,” Maddon said. “To me, it’s a good word. I thought he accepted it really well.”

Quintana and the Cubs will find out soon enough about his big-stage mettle. He hasn’t pitched in the playoffs and, until this year, played second fiddle (or third) to Chris Sale on his own staff. As the de facto ace for the Sox this year, he got off to a 1-7 start with a 5.60 ERA before righting his season in June.

Quintana seems eager to step under the brighter lights.

“It’s an honor to be part of that,” he said. “I’m excited, and I can’t wait to do my things. I know the Cubs have a lot of fans. That’s good. I think that’s special when you play every single day and a lot of people are pushing you. That’s very fun.”

He said he wanted to play for the Cubs once he knew he was on the trading block and that they were among the rumored teams interested.

“We’ve got a good chance to go to the playoffs, and I’m excited for that,” he said.

He wasn’t the only one in the clubhouse with that reaction to his arrival, as the woebegone Cubs — 43-45 in the first half — look to redefine their season.

“For us to come back with a brand new addition after a nice break, it’s amazing,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “You look at Jose’s record, he’s as consistent as they get — one of the most underrated left-handers in all of baseball. He’s an amazing player who I think will get a chance more to shine over here, where over there, with Chris Sale going every fifth day for the White Sox for so long, he was just kind of the forgotten guy.”

Even though the Cubs view the trade mainly in terms of its long-term value (Quintana is under contract through 2020), “it could be exactly what we’re looking for in the second half,” Maddon said. “It’s definitely an injection. There’s definitely energy involved. It’s more believable with him around here right now. You can’t do this without pitching.”

World Series MVP Ben Zobrist called the move “refreshing,” then doubled leading off the Cubs’ four-run first inning Friday night and homered in the second.

“The timing is great, too, because everybody’s excited about turning the page from the first half,” Zobrist said. “So not only do you have everybody coming back with a fresh perspective anyway, but to be able to add a guy like that to your 25-man roster just adds to that feeling that we’re a different team now than we were in the first half.”

Said Jason Heyward, who hit a homer onto Baltimore’s Eutaw Street in the third inning: “It should show everybody in this clubhouse what [the front office] thinks of this team and what we’re capable of.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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