Quintana puts together a scoreless gem in Miami
MIAMI -- José Quintana is starting to look like the All-Star pitcher the contending Cubs dealt for in 2017. He is perhaps pitching the best he has since joining the club.
Quintana built off his previous strong start with seven-plus innings in the Cubs' 4-0 win over the Marlins on Tuesday night at Marlins Park.
"Q was on top of his game again," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He had great command of everything, great carry on his pitches. The curveball was as good as we've seen it. And now the changeup is becoming a force. He's pitching with everything he's got, with a lot of confidence, and there's no reason why he cannot continue that."
The 30-year-old left-hander scattered six hits with seven strikeouts and no walks before exiting following pinch-hitter Rosell Herrera's leadoff single in the eighth. Not until Austin Dean's two-out double in the seventh did Quintana permit a runner to reach second base.
Quintana, who struck out 11 over seven scoreless innings his last time out against the Pirates, has rebounded nicely since his first start of the season on April 5 in Milwaukee. In that outing, he gave up eight runs in three frames.
So what's different from that start against the Brewers?
After utilizing his changeup more in his last start (13 times), Quintana increased its usage on Tuesday with 23 of his 91 pitches. He has also gone to his sinker more than in previous years. Between those two offerings, Quintana recorded eight called strikes and seven swinging.
Those increases, in turn, make his fastball and curveball even more dangerous. Entering Tuesday, Quintana’s 33.8 strikeout rate ranked in the top 9 percent in the Majors. Add to that the fact that he also has just one walk to 18 strikeouts over his past 14-plus innings, and he’s in a good place.
"Hit the lines. Both sides of the plate, with the fastball moving really good," said Quintana, who credited first-pitch strikes to his success. "Most of the time, stay down. I try to keep attacking and use all my stuff. In the outing in Milwaukee, make adjustments and go out and pitch, and that's what I feel after that."
Quintana also didn't allow much hard contact, but his defense backed him up when he did. Albert Almora Jr., who celebrated his 25th birthday with family in the stands, made a diving grab on a liner to straightaway center off the bat of Starlin Castro in the sixth with a runner at first and one out.
According to Statcast, there was a catch probability of 35 percent, which translates to a four-star catch. Almora had to cover 32 feet in 2.8 seconds.
With Thursday's off-day, the Cubs are rolling with a four-man rotation as Jon Lester works back from a left hamstring strain. Through their last turn, Chicago starters -- Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Quintana -- have posted a 1.75 ERA. Their continued success will be pivotal for the Cubs’ chances in 2019.
"We try to keep winning games," Quintana said. "We have really a good rotation, and every single game we have a really good chance to win games."
Quintana wouldn't commit to whether this is the best he has felt since joining the Cubs, but he acknowledged that right now he is pitching like he has during the more successful stretches of his eight-year career.
"He's always had 'The Look,' but for me, the difference is willingness and ability to use everything that he owns," Maddon said. "The curveball and the changeup. And now the carry on the fastball becomes even quicker. They were late to react to it, and he spots it up, down and away ... He's in a good place right now. We just have to keep him there."