Quintana throws gem amid swirling trade rumors

July 24th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- As first pitch neared, PNC Park was inhospitable for baseball. The sky was dark, gray, ominous. Rain fell. Lightning struck. Players hid. The melancholic aura wouldn’t endure. The clouds had cleared. The tarp was removed. Toward evening’s end, the skyline was blanketed by a sunset of gold. For José Quintana, it was an apt metaphor.

Last season was Quintana’s nadir. This season has been Quintana’s resurgence. Nights like Saturday, in which he threw seven shutout innings with four strikeouts to no walks in the Pirates’ 1-0 win over the Marlins, affirm that Quintana still has juice. The question that will linger for the next several days is whether this start for the Buccos was his last.

“Right now, I’m focusing on starting the second half strong,” Quintana said. “I know [there are] a lot of rumors around me. I’ve been in this situation before. I don’t pay attention to that right now. I just want to keep throwing the ball well. … That’s all I have control of. I want to keep focusing on that.”

Quintana likely isn’t just aware of the rumors, but the value that he possesses on the trade market. With Saturday night’s gem, Quintana has a 3.70 ERA and 3.26 FIP across 97 1/3 innings. He has had several turbulent starts since June, but his peripherals have been fine enough because he has limited walks and home runs. He’s been Pittsburgh’s best starter this season, and his impact for the Pirates begins, not ends, with his left arm.

The veteran, who accrued 10 years of service time earlier this year, has been invaluable for a team defined by its youth. There isn’t much that Quintana has yet to experience on a diamond. Quintana has been a fountain of knowledge, and the Pirates’ rotation is filled with sponges.

“When he comes into the clubhouse, you would have never thought that he had tenure,” said JT Brubaker earlier this season. “He’s saying hi to everybody. He’s talking to you all the time. He’s very friendly, joking. Just everything that you could want in a teammate.”

“He shares so much of his knowledge and wisdom with us,” said Roansy Contreras in June through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “He’s always out there with us in our bullpens. Anything that he sees that he thinks that we could adjust or [do] better or amplify, he makes it aware to us in a very approachable way, in a very genuine way.

“Quintana is great, man.”

The opportunities for members of the rotation and for the whole pitching staff to learn from Quintana might be fading. Of that, Quintana has no control. What the left-hander can control is how he executes his pitches, his game plan. On Saturday, Quintana was in vintage form.

“When you have guys on short-term contracts that perform really well, teams are going to inquire,” manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s part of it. I think it’s really easy to see that even though there’s things out there, it did not affect how he went about his business tonight.”

Quintana was very economical with his pitches, so much so that he had the opportunity to do something that he hadn’t done in almost five years -- an opportunity that ultimately didn’t materialize.

Through seven innings, Quintana had thrown 81 pitches. He hadn’t completed at least eight innings since Sept. 24, 2017, when he threw a complete-game shutout. From a pitch-count perspective, Quintana had some wiggle room for one more frame. Instead, he was pulled in favor of Wil Crowe. The night was young, but his night was over.

To Shelton, the decision to pull Quintana was due to a confluence of factors.

First, the Marlins were planning to send three righties to the plate in the eighth. There was also the fact that Quintana spent a lot of time on the bench. Not only did the Pirates orchestrate some lengthy innings on offense, even without much offense to show for it, but Quintana sat for about 20 minutes when rookie pitcher Max Meyer exited the game in the first with a right elbow injury. Combine these ingredients with this outing being Quintana’s first of the second half and Shelton’s cautiousness was justified.

“It felt like it was longer than that and it was not the right time to send him back out for the eighth,” Shelton said.

With the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline looming, it’s not unfair to wonder if this outing was Quintana’s final in the Steel City.

The Pirates executed their first true move of the Deadline season by moving designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach to the Mets for right-handed pitcher Colin Holderman, who was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday. More moves could be on the way. Quintana could be involved in one of them. Regardless of when and how Quintana’s time in Pittsburgh comes to an end, between his production on the mound and his influence in the clubhouse, it’s hard to deny that the lefty’s impact was golden.