GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jose Quintana has already shown Don Cooper that he wants to be more than just a one-year wonder.
After a season in which he leaped from Single-A to the majors, the White Sox pitcher went home to Colombia this winter and followed the instructions his pitching coach gave him last October to the letter.
In an attempt to follow up a 6-6 rookie season, Quintana, who finished with a 3.76 ERA in 136 1/3 innings, has worked to strengthen a weakness -- he wants to better command the outside corner to right-handed hitters.
Cooper feels good about the efforts of the young left-hander, who finished last season with an ERA-plus of 115, according to Baseball-reference.com. An ERA-plus of 100 means a pitcher is average. By comparison, Quintana’s All-Star teammates Chris Sale and Jake Peavy finished with a 142 and a 129, respectively.
“He’s not under the radar for me,” Cooper said. “He’s one of our starters. … I could tell the first day that this son of a gun worked on everything we asked him to work on. That’s a nice feeling that somebody was smart enough, heard those words, took them and ran with it.”
Cooper knows Quintana, 24, didn’t dream of merely reaching the major leagues to play only one season. Quintana, who was signed as a minor league free agent in Nov. 2011 after spending the previous four seasons in the New York Yankees organization , has displayed the drive to learn from the outset of his time with the White Sox.
Last season, Quintana benefited from the addition of a cut-fastball he learned in spring training. Right-handed hitters batted only .230 against Quintana’s cut-fastball compared with a .299 clip versus his fastball, according to Brooksbaseball.net.
Seeing that improvement, Quintana, who grew up a fan of Cliff Lee and Andy Pettite, said he intends to improve his arm-side command. After nearly two months off from throwing, Quintana went to work. He said he sees a significant difference as a result of the work he put in this offseason.
“I feel like I can pitch inside well, it’s just being able to command that outside part of the plate,” Quintana said through a translator. “I’ve felt a lot of improvement. I started working on that way back in December. I’m starting to feel like it’s coming. I feel pretty good about it.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said he too sees a difference in Quintana. Ventura’s observations aren’t from a technical standpoint. He notices the way Quintana and several other rookie pitchers from last season have a different, more established look to themselves when they make their way through the clubhouse.
“He’s a different kid this year in spring training than he was last year, just because of the year he had,” Ventura said. “I think the maturity that comes with that, he comes in confidence-wise different than maybe last year. His maturity level is much higher.”
Quintana admits a career-high innings pitched caught up with him late in the season. Prior to last season, when he combined for 185 innings between Double-A Birmingham and the White Sox, Quintana had never thrown more than 102 innings. But Quintana doesn’t want to blame his decline on the innings increase.
“Maybe there was a little fatigue but that’s not an excuse,” Quintana said. “You have to get mentally tough.”
Though Quintana went 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in six appearances after Sept. 1, Cooper is pleased with how his young charge handled himself. He’s even happier with how Quintana has himself prepared for this spring.
“He did a fantastic job, coming up from A-ball to do what he did,” Cooper said. “He was brought to the brink, but he did an outstanding job for us. And we’re looking now to, ‘How do we improve? How do we get better?’ Because pitching is a craft and it’s a process.”
Even at a young age, Quintana grasps Cooper’s concepts without any trouble. He’s thankful to have reached this point. He enjoys the opportunity. And he has no intention of letting it go without a fight.
“I’m very happy,” Quintana said. “I’m also very fortunate that all these things have happened. But I’ve worked hard for this and this is what I want to do.”