KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This could be a groundbreaking week for Jose Quintana, who has been stuck on nine wins in each of his three excellent full seasons as a starting pitcher for the White Sox despite ERAs of 3.51, 3.32 and 3.36.
The reason why has been well-documented: While pitching in a hitters’ park, Quintana has kept the ball in the yard and given his team a chance to win with extraordinary consistency, but the Sox haven’t scored enough runs for him.
The win statistic had more meaning in eras gone by to everyone from agents and front-office people who set salary scales to the casual fan, but wins still mean a lot to pitchers.
Wins mean a lot to Quintana. All you have to do is look into his eyes after a tough-luck loss or a victory. He’ll beam if he gets No. 10 for the first time Wednesday against the Royals, and he’ll look pained if he gives up two runs in a 2-1 loss. Quintana works as hard as any pitcher coach Don Cooper has worked with, and the only way he feels rewarded, aside from cashing his paycheck, is to celebrate victory.
And that has only happened six, nine, nine, nine and nine times in his career despite owning a 3.38 career ERA and making 25, 33, 32, 32 and 22 starts in his five seasons.
He’s 42-42 but far from mired in mediocrity.
“It’s unfortunate we don’t score more runs when he’s out there because he could easily be 14-and-whatever the way he’s throwing the ball,’’ first-year Sox player Justin Morneau said.
“It’s unfortunate we can’t get him more wins.’’
Morneau faced Quintana as a Twin. He was reminded of his clean delivery and command standing in the batter’s box during Quintana’s side sessions when he was working his way back from an elbow injury.
“You could just stand there because you didn’t have to worry about him missing his spot too often,’’ Morneau said.
With Chris Sale starting Tuesday, when the Sox (53-58) open a nine-game road trip that continues through Miami and Cleveland, and Quintana after that, the Sox have quite the pair of 27-year-old All-Star left-handers to open a series with.
Cooper says Sale is “the most gifted guy” he has coached, but Quintana “is the most focused and determined to be the best he can be.”
“Sale is gifted with a powerful left arm and three well-above-average pitches he throws for strikes all the time,’’ Cooper said. “That’s why he’s a five-time All-Star.
“Quintana throws strikes, changes speeds, commands the fastball, competes very well, holds runners, fields his position. That’s a lot of things that give you a chance to be good.’’
Quintana’s bullpen sessions between starts are often cut short only because Cooper takes the ball away.
“He’s on top of everything; he doesn’t miss a trick; he doesn’t forget anything you say,’’ Cooper said. “Three years ago, for example, we talked about elevating fastballs — we call it higher and high. He immediately put it in his repertoire of things to work on in practice, and he got so much better because he pays attention to detail.
“He’s a coach’s dream. When he’s all done, he’s going to know he got everything out of his God-given ability.’’
Cooper hopes he has Quintana and Sale to work with next season. Because the Sox haven’t won with them, they are forced to consider trading one or both to bolster their organizational depth, which is lacking, especially for position players. Cooper said he “didn’t pay much attention” to trade rumors before the Aug. 1 deadline “because a fraction of them actually happen.’’
He’s happy neither got sent away.
“I’m glad to have them,’’ he said.