MINNEAPOLIS -- Guess who’s back?
Jose Quintana turned in the kind of game on early Thursday evening that reminds you why he has been one of baseball’s top pitchers the past few seasons. Working with a swing-and-miss curveball/changeup combo, Quintana waited out a near five-hour delay to produce a stellar outing.
Quintana struck out nine batters in 6 2/3 scoreless innings as the White Sox avoided a sweep with a 9-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins in front of 27,684 at Target Field. Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Matt Davidson all homered for the White Sox, who finished with 18 hits and a 3-3 mark on their road trip. Even though it’s clear his crisp stuff makes all the difference, Quintana joked that the real key was another heaping of early run support. The White Sox have produced nine first-inning runs in Quintana’s last two starts.
“Really good,” Quintana said of the run support. “So shhhhhh.”
Quintana lately has been equally as good as his offense.
After making several baby steps in his past few starts, Quintana ran wild in the series finale against a Twins team that he has always struggled against. While he worked at a deliberate pace, Quintana never got into trouble facing a team against whom he was 6-8 with a 4.28 ERA in his career.
The left-hander used a nasty, biting curveball and a changeup that dropped off the edge along with sharp fastball command to keep Minnesota hitters off balance.
“Just commanding the strike zone, early strikes and being able to use his breaking ball and changeup a little more effectively,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He finished some hitters with some fastballs underneath that had a little life. I thought that was effective because he used some of his secondary pitches to get them off the fastball, and he was able to sneak a ball in there here and there to do what he needed to do. It was very good.”
Quintana struck out one batter in each of the first five innings before he picked up steam. He fanned two each in the sixth and seventh innings and is averaging a career best 8.97 strikeouts per nine innings this season. He said he gained confidence with his changeup as the game went along, especially against Miguel Sano, whom he struck out three times.
Quintana said he’s recently worked to get better extension on his changeup. He threw it 15 times on Thursday for nine strikes, including three whiffs, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
The 2016 All-Star pitcher never allowed a man past second base in a 113-pitch effort and allowed five hits and walked none.
Quintana has a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts as he’s allowed 19 hits and six earned runs in 24 innings. He has walked eight and struck out 24.
“With the changeup it’s the same release point with fastball and changeup,” Quintana said. “Today I had a lot of confidence in my changeup, especially late. … The heavy hitters like Sano and the other guys, it worked really good. So I’m happy.”
The offense provided Quintana with another early round of unbridled joy in the first inning with five more runs. Six days after they produced an early four-spot for Quintana against Toronto, the White Sox topped themselves.
Showing no signs of malaise after a 290-minute rain delay, Abreu and Frazier each blasted two-run homers off Minnesota’s Nik Turley to put the White Sox up 4-0. With two outs and Turley already gone, Adam Engel singled off reliever Buddy Boshers to make it 5-0 in the first.
Though he’s relatively unfamiliar with big innings, Quintana apparently has already developed a routine.
“He’s moving around,” Frazier said. “He’s got to stay loose. He’s one of those guys who can’t stay still for the whole game. When it’s long innings like that he goes in the cage and stays loose and comes back out and he’s the first one out there ready to go.”
The White Sox weren’t ready to quit after their big first. They added on as Kevan Smith and Engel each singled in runs in the third to give Quintana a seven-run cushion. Engel finished with four hits and Smith tied a career high with three.
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Davidson increased the lead to 8-0 in the fifth inning with a 427-foot blast off Craig Breslow, his 17th homer. Davidson also singled, doubled and walked. The White Sox scored once more in the seventh when Tim Anderson (two hits) doubled in a run off Breslow.
After they produced 22 runs of support for Quintana in his first 13 starts this season, the White Sox have scored 20 in his last two.
“Let’s keep doing the same,” Quintana said. “It’s really good. Early support is really good.”
The White Sox might say the same about having their top pitcher back at his best.