With Senga out, rock-solid Quintana to start opener

March 14th, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- By a solid decade or so, Carlos Mendoza’s relationship with Jose Quintana has run longer than his bond with any other Met. The two met when Mendoza was managing in the Yankees’ Minor League system, and Quintana was a little-known prospect trying to keep his career aspirations alive.

“Nobody knew who he was,” Mendoza recalled Wednesday from the home dugout at Clover Park, where the Mets recorded a 6-5 win over the Astros. “I remember him getting a call to pitch on the High-A team [in 2011]. … He ended up pitching a lot, and then the next year he was in the big leagues. It was a pretty cool story.”

That tale continued its full-circle arc on Wednesday when Mendoza -- now the Mets manager -- named Quintana his Opening Day starter against the Brewers on March 28. The left-hander will sub in for Kodai Senga, who would have earned the nod at Citi Field had he not suffered a right shoulder injury that will keep him out for at least all of April.

“I’m excited to get the opportunity,” Quintana said. “Hopefully Senga comes back as early as he can, healthy, and he contributes to us to get a great season for everybody. For me, I don’t have words to explain how excited I am.”

This is the second career opener for Quintana, who previously started Opening Day in 2017 for the White Sox. He and Julio Teheran are the only Colombian-born pitchers to start an Opening Day. Quintana will also become the first left-handed Met to do it since Jon Niese in 2013.

Team officials consider this a well-deserved honor. Quintana is coming off a season that saw him produce a 3.57 ERA over 13 starts after returning from injury, proving to be the same steady competitor he’s been throughout his 12-year career. From 2013-19, Quintana was one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, averaging around 193 innings per season with a 3.72 ERA. The Mets signed him to a two-year, $26 million contract two offseasons ago, but Quintana suffered a stress fracture in his rib that required surgery last March. He didn’t debut until late July.

Within weeks of that return, the Mets traded Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, vastly increasing Quintana’s long-term importance. He entered Spring Training as a veteran leader, one of two rotation incumbents -- along with Senga -- who were guaranteed spots on the 2024 roster. He’s since done nothing but impress, hitting 94 mph in a recent Grapefruit League start and producing a 2.08 ERA through three spring outings.

“Obviously this is a guy that’s been in the league for a long time,” Mendoza said. “He’s one of those guys that competes, takes the ball, knows how to pitch. We like how he’s bouncing back. We feel like the more that he goes through his progression, the stronger he feels.”

How the rest of the rotation unfolds is not yet clear. Luis Severino, Sean Manaea and Adrian Houser will pitch in some order, along with a to-be-determined fifth starter -- likely Tylor Megill, who has impressed in camp. Team officials have considered shuffling their rotation to allow multiple right-handers to pitch against the Brewers, who fared better against lefties last season. That would push Manaea to the fourth game of the year.

Yet no matter how things shake out, Quintana will be at the head of it all. More than a decade removed from meeting Mendoza, he will look to vindicate his manager’s decision.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Quintana said. “That’s special, for me to be the Opening Day starter. I understand we have a great rotation, so [any] one of those guys could be an Opening Day starter, too. It’s an honor for me that they’ll give me the ball the first day.”