Jose Quintana has been saying since spring training that this year is going to be different.
He definitely is on to something.
“Everything changed,’’ Quintana said after hitting his spots for eight innings and holding the Boston Red Sox to four hits and no walks over eight innings in a 4-1 White Sox victory Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field. “Everything is going in a good direction this year. We believe in that.’’
After enduring 53 no-decisions despite performing as one of baseball’s most consistently good left-handers over the last three seasons, Quintana (4-1) is pitching even better over his first six starts in 2016. He trimmed his ERA to 1.40, which is better than ace Chris Sale’s 1.66 and only behind Jordan Zimmerman (0.55) and Felix Hernandez (1.38) in the American League. After enjoying their first off day after 19 straight games, the Sox (19-8) opened a six-game homestand against the Red Sox (15-11) and Minnesota Twins by spiffing up their AL-best record. They have won nine of their last 11 games.
Jose Abreu tripled in a run in the first and doubled in two in the eighth, tacking on a welcome pair of late runs after Quintana dueled knuckleballer Steven Wright (2-3, 1.67) for most of the night with a one-run lead. Adding runs is the White Sox way this season – they have now scored 52 runs from the seventh inning on.
Commanding the strike zone with his fastball and curve, Quintana struck out five and extended his scoreless innings streak to 20 before Hanley Ramirez homered in the fifth. After the homer he retired 10 of 12 batters.
“He was painting pitches and hitting the corners,” Ramirez said.
“He’s up there with anybody in the league,’’ manager Robin Ventura said.
“It’s impressive. Record wise everybody has looked at his no-decisions. But he’s just been outstanding. He shows a lot of heart, he has always had it and this is a great lineup that he went through. To do that tonight coming back home against pretty much the best offense in the American League right now … he continues to impress.
Abreu, who had his worst April in three seasons, is warming up with a seven-game hitting streak, five straight multi-hit games and 10 RBI in his last 10 games.
“I have a better recognition of the strike zone and about the pitches where I have to swing,’’ Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo.
“Josie is starting to swing the bat,” Ventura said. “It’s starting to look better. It sounds better. That’s a good sign for us.”
Adam Eaton, (two hits), who made another good catch in deep right field, reached on a bunt single and Jimmy Rollins on a dropped third strike before Abreu’s double.
David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth for his ninth save in 10 opportunities and lowered his ERA to 0.70. He is tied for the AL lead in saves.
The Sox sold 100,000 tickets last week for games coming up, but they were greeted with a rather modest crowd of 15,025, considering their success to open the season.
“I know if you win they will come,’’ Eaton said. “I can’t blame the fans for not wanting to come see us the last two years, especially with the struggles that we had.
“We love our fan base in every way, shape and form. They’re always loud, they’re always passionate and we appreciate them. Get pumped for the long ride. It should be a fun summer and we’re excited to have those guys along.’’
NOTES: Designated hitter Avisail Garcia missed a third straight game with a right hamstring strain and could be ready to return Wednesday, he and Ventura said.
*Catcher Alex Avila (hamstring) could come off the 15-day DL as early as Monday. “I know Alex is getting pretty close to maybe going out and getting a rehab assignment,” Ventura said.