SEATTLE — Just when the White Sox have needed Jose Quintana to be Jose Quintana — not only to step up as an anchor on a teetering rotation that hasn’t posted a win in 13 starts but also to help general manager Rick Hahn’s bargaining position in trade discussions — the left-hander has been just ordinary.
Until Friday. And Quintana knew it.
“I know I started slow, but that happens sometimes,’’ said Quintana, who cruised through his ninth start Friday against the Mariners, holding them to one one run and one hit while striking out seven in eight innings in a 2-1 Sox win in 10 innings at Safeco Field. “I have enough experience to work through it.’’
Quintana’s command has been spotty in spurts, but he lowered his ERA from 4.38 to 3.92 and held an opponent to one hit through eight innings for the first time in a career that has seen the 2016 All-Star post remarkably consistent ERAs of 3.76, 3.51, 3.32, 3.36 and 3.20 in his first five seasons. The disappointing start was beginning to reduce what Quintana could return in a deal.
Here’s what one National League scout said this week: “Everyone says he’s a top of the rotation starter. Well, he may be the top starter for the White Sox, but he’s not a top-of-the-rotation guy. He’s good, don’t get me wrong, I like him, but he doesn’t have a dominant out pitch. He’s a three on a contender.’’
An American League scout said Quintana is a No. 3 starter “at minimum’’ for a contender.
“Look at what he has done in his career,’’ the scout said. ‘‘Can you consider him a No. 2? With his body of work you could. He might not have a standout pitch, but he has three good ones, he just didn’t have them early in the season. He’s a lefty, he throws a lot of innings, he competes well, throws tons of strikes and has team control for several years on a favorable contract.’’
Ah, that wonderful team-friendly contract. Quintana, who is earning $7 million this season, is signed through next year at an affordable $8.85 million with club options for 2019 and 2020 at $10.5 million.
Tack on his age, 28, to what he has done — he ranked seventh in ERA, WHIP, starts and quality starts among major-league lefties since 2012 going into the season and is one of six pitchers with 30-plus starts and 200 innings in each of the last four seasons — and the rebuilding Sox should be able to get a good package of prospects.
“It all comes down to if a team considers him a No. 2,’’ the AL scout said. “Early on, he definitely has not been. If he gets hot for three or four weeks . . . it’s like an eBay auction. You have to get people emotionally tied to the item for them to up the bid.’’
“I want more,’’ Quintana said. “And I want to be better. I don’t believe in luck, I believe in my preparation, and if I keep doing what I’ve always done these last few years, I’ll be on the same page as before.’’
Quintana (2-5) settled for his 61st career no-decision, the most in baseball since 2012, allowing a run in the second on Danny Valencia’s triple and Ben Gamel’s sacrifice fly. Jose Abreu hit his eighth homer against lefty Ariel Miranda (nine strikeouts in seven innings), and Melky Cabrera drove in the winning run in the 10th with a two-out double against St. Rita High School grad Tony Zych, scoring pinch runner Leury Garcia.
Garcia was running for catcher Kevan Smith, who got hit by a pitch to open the inning. Willy Garcia bunted Leury Garcia to second before Cabrera lined one toward the right-field corner.
David Robertson (3-1) pitched a perfect ninth and 10th as the Sox snapped a four-game losing streak.
“Q has had a couple rough outings but so have I,” Robertson said. “Everyone has that happen in baseball. He went out there tonight and was lights out. He was throwing the ball where he wanted to.”
Quintana has had to answer questions about being trade bait since the first day of spring training. His even, focused and workmanlike demeanor hasn’t changed, but he’d have to have blinders on not to notice he’s being watched closely. The rumor mill, as well as trade discussions among teams, was hot and heavy during the offseason and steady through spring training, but it quieted during April.
It certainly will pick up in June and July in advance of the July 31 trade deadline.
Quintana insists it’s not a distraction.
“Same,’’ he said of his focus. “That never changes.’’