GLENDALE, Ariz. — Even while the pop of the catcher’s mitt still reverberates around the ballpark, White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana is holding up his glove and requesting the ball back.
Quintana already is locked in for his next delivery. This happens on every pitch because Quintana is zoned in and distracted by nothing, it seems.
“It’s focus,’’ Quintana said. “Focus on the next pitch like, ‘I got this one. I know what I have for the next one.’ Sometimes, [based on] the hitter’s swing on that pitch, I know what I want to do.’’
Quintana’s sharp focus has served him well this spring. He has been the subject of ongoing trade rumors since the team moved Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, and his availability as part of the Sox rebuild is one of the hottest talking points around the league.
Some were sure he’d be gone by now. Many predicted he’d be gone before pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 14. But Quintana is here and could be here for longer than some might think.
That’s what Quintana believes.
“Yes, I expect to be here for a long time, and that’s what I want,’’ Quintana said after manager Rick Renteria named him the Opening Day starter April 3, when the Sox host the Tigers. “I don’t pay attention to trade [rumors], so I come to the complex every day to do my job, spend time with my teammates and talk about baseball. And that’s it. I don’t pay attention. I just want to do good things for the White Sox.’’
The Sox are known to be holding out for a huge haul of prospects in return for the steady lefty whose fWAR of 18.1 ranks seventh among major-league pitchers since 2013. His ERAs in his years as a starter are 3.76, 3.51, 3.32, 3.36 and 3.20.
The Sox know his favorable contract terms — he’s under club control through 2020, maxing out at $10.5 million — add to his appeal to teams, including the Astros, Yankees, Pirates and Braves. Of course, those terms also make him worth keeping. The rebuilt rotation also could include Carlos Rodon, 24, and up-and-coming prospects Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito, all of whom came in the Sale and Eaton deals.
Renteria, the Sox’ bench coach in 2016, watched Quintana last season and came to love him for his talent, professionalism, attention to detail and attitude, despite having his name attached to 59 no-decisions, the most in baseball since 2012.
“Time, games under your belt and success continues to breed more calm,’’ Renteria said. “For me, he’s been the same person since I met him Day 1.’’
Quintana is clearly the ace now that Sale is gone, but he was “surprised’’ when Renteria told him he would start the opener.
“Well, if they don’t tell you, you don’t know,’’ Quintana said, smiling. “I say, ‘Thank you, White Sox organization, for giving me this opportunity for my first Opening Day.’ Maybe they don’t know what that means for me, but it’s really a big thing.’’
It’s another feather in the cap for the 28-year-old who made his first All-Star team last summer and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Team USA in pool play of the World Baseball Classic.
Last season, Quintana established career bests in wins (13), ERA (3.20), innings (208) and strikeouts (181). He will be only the second Colombian to start an opener (along with the Braves’ Julio Teheran from 2014 to ’16).
“It means a lot for me, especially after last year, when you make the All-Star team, and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC,’’ Quintana said. “And now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day. That’s a lot of things happening for me now, and I’m happy. And really blessed.’’
And still here.