The Cubs' Jose Quintana debut plan: Let him take control

BALTIMORE -- It's Jose Quintana day for the Chicago Cubs as they debut their prized July trade piece in Sunday's series finale against the Orioles.

Happy he didn't have to change home addresses -- just uniforms -- the former White Sox pitcher simply wants to fit in. His new team, however, needs him to eat up some innings as the Cubs' starting rotation currently ranks 12th in innings pitched in the National League.

"I can plug him in with the rest of our guys. [He] really could be exactly what we're looking for in the second half," manager Joe Maddon said this weekend.

You better believe he could. Quintana is one of six pitchers to throw at least 200 innings over the past four seasons, and despite a slow start, his 104 ⅓ first-half innings have him on pace to do it again. With the Cubs coming off wins Friday and Saturday, Quintana could pitch them to a rare road series sweep to provide the ultimate boost after a shoddy first half.

So what's the plan when he takes the mound for the first time for the Cubs with a young catcher behind the plate? Let Quintana take control.

"For the first outing or two you want to get [catcher] Willson [Contreras] acclimated to what [Quintana] is comfortable doing and maybe what he's not," catching coach Mike Borzello said Saturday. "Not steering him down the wrong path just based on a scouting report. You want to stay with what his strengths are and then incorporate information that we have. It doesn't hurt he's playing a team he knows."

Quintana is 1-4 with a 4.29 ERA in six career starts against the Orioles, but he's not concerned about numbers. He wants to show his new teammates that the Cubs' brass made the right move.

"I'm so happy for this trade," Quintana said. "I really want to help this team."

It's always tough to judge a guy in his first start for a new team, but considering the ease of the transition, Quintana might not need an adjustment period. His manager was asked to put on his scout's hat to assess what the Cubs are getting.

"He's an aggressive pitcher," Maddon said. "Eventually he got better with the off-speed stuff. I saw an assertive pitcher that went after hitters."

A major league scout said to forget about Quintana's slow start -- he had an ERA over 5.00 at the end of May -- because it was due to playing in the World Baseball Classic. He was "stretched out" too early, though Quintana simply says he was missing his spots. That's an important part of any pitcher's game, of course, but Borzello thinks it's particularly important for the Cubs' new hurler.

"When you're dealing with command guys, when they go into a hitter's strength, into their zones, it's a little dangerous," Borzello said. "They know why and where they're going with that pitch. You have a trust in those kinds of pitchers more than ones that are more apt to make a mistake."

In other words, the Cubs will let Quintana dictate even if it goes away from the plan, at least while they get to know him. He had a big smile on his face when asked about being compared to new teammate Jon Lester, who lockered next to him in Baltimore this weekend. Their numbers over the last few years do look alike, but that's where the similarities end, according to team president Theo Epstein.

"They manipulate the baseball differently," Epstein said. "Jon cuts the ball more than Quintana does. They are pretty good comps. They're right next to each other for most valuable pitchers the last three, four years."

As for Lester, he wasn't into the comparisons as much as the fact that the Cubs made a bold statement in acquiring a top-flight pitcher.

"You make a trade like that, obviously the belief is there," Lester said. "It gives you a shot in the arm, 'Let's get going.'"

So Quintana gets the ball as the Cubs are starting to feel good about themselves. He can take that optimism to another level simply by being as good as he has been, nothing more, as his presence could elevate a rotation in need of a boost.

While Lester downplayed the similarities and Quintana embraced them, Epstein pointed out one more difference.

"Jose has him on throwing to first base, and Jon has him on throwing the cutter," he quipped.

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