Six years ago, out for 50 games after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, Jose Quintana didn’t know this was possible.
He was a kid.
He didn’t have a team.
He had been released by the New York Mets for the test, sat out the entire 2007 season and wondered if he’d ever again play professionally.
But here the young White Sox pitcher is, thriving in his second chance.
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Quintana reflected on his opportunity -- and how strong he feels two-thirds through his second full season in the majors -- the day after he improved to 6-3 with 6 2/3 strong innings pitched on Monday against the New York Yankees.
“I had four months where I was out of baseball and I totally thought I was done,” Quintana said through a translator. “I learned a lot from that experience and that’s what’s important to me now.”
Just 17 at the time of his positive test, Quintana recalls how he didn’t think team officials were serious when they first informed him.
The Colombia native had been given medicine for a back problem from someone he described as an unaffiliated sports medicine doctor and had no idea he had taken anything illegal.
The Mets didn’t take any chances, however, and released Quintana after he served his suspension.
“At first when they told me that I thought they were joking with me,” Quintana said. “I said ‘I’m not taking anything.’ But obviously I tested positive. I thought it was a joke and I did appeal but I never (heard).”
Quintana hasn’t taken any chances since his incident.
He loves life as a professional baseball player and works tirelessly to maintain his career. The White Sox have been thoroughly impressed with the strides Quintana has made in his second season.
Pitching coach Don Cooper lauded Quintana in spring training for all of his work in the offseason, including working to improve command of pitches.
Another area Quintana emphasized is physical conditioning. He admits he wore down some at the end of 2012 and doesn’t want a repeat.
Manager Robin Ventura said Quintana has a good idea of what’s ahead and has impressed him with his preparation.
“You’re in your second year and you’re trying to understand what it’s like to get up to 200 innings,” Ventura said. “For them to understand how you go about it and how you prepare for it and the mental to be able to do it --- it’s one thing to have the physical attributes to do it, but it’s another thing to be mentally prepared to do it and I think this year he is. Last year, it was his first time going through it, and trying to find that balance of doing that. This year he’s better off going into the season knowing that’s what’s expected.”
The hard work has paid off with improved numbers.
Quintana, who never pitched above Single-A before last season, already had a very good rookie season. He finished 6-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 25 games (22 starts).
But he has been even better thus far.
In two more innings pitched than in 2012, Quintana -- who has completed 138 1/ 3 innings this season -- has allowed 11 fewer hits (131), three fewer runs (59), two fewer walks (40) and he has 29 more strikeouts (110).
Asked how he feels with 7 1/2 weeks to go, Quintana patted his left arm and said “really, really good.”
He believes his offseason preparation and work between starts with the team’s conditioning and training staff has helped.
“One of the things I tried to do in the offseason is prepare for it and also the work with the strength and conditioning program has helped me feel as good as I feel now,” Quintana said.
The pitcher -- whose ERA-plus of 122 is 13th among American League starters -- knows he’s in a good spot.
It’s a much better place than he was six years ago.
“I had really good people around me, especially my family who supported me throughout all this,” Quintana said. “Thankfully I was able to catch up with another team and things worked out.”