Out of nowhere over the weekend, Jose Quintana arrived as a major league pitcher with the White Sox.
Quintana's dad, an assistant road engineer in Colombia, planned to stay as long as Jose contributed to the Sox cause. Hope Mr. Quintana packed for an extended stay on the South Side.
Judging by eight scoreless innings Sunday against the Dodgers in his fifth straight impressive start, the Sox will continue to rely on Quintana as their third-best option on the staff behind Chris Sale and Jake Peavy. A year after going 10-2 for Class A Tampa, Quintana finds himself the unlikely focus of conversations involving plans to tweak the rotation and cling to a perilous lead in the American League Central.
When general manager Ken Williams was asked before Monday's game about Quintana, he answered coyly.
"He's made it interesting,'' Williams said.
Naturally, Williams implied the Sox had starting options. Realistically, they have none better than the 23-year-old lefty, none currently on the roster anyway. Even if Williams trades for a veteran starter his struggling team badly needs, it's hard to imagine the Sox sending Quintana anywhere but the mound every fifth day.
"I'm just going along with it and happy to pitch whenever they say,'' Quintana said.
Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber have taken turns disappointing the Sox lately. John Danks got more tests Monday on his ailing shoulder, and regardless of the Sox spin, nobody will exhale until he returns to the mound. When Zach Stewart got bombed in Monday's loss to the Cubs in a spot start, it reinforced the sorry state the Sox rotation is in.
Surprisingly, stability has come from Quintana, a six-year minor league free agent the Yankees released in November rather than add to their 40-man roster. When Quintana became available, Sox scout Joe Siers backed up the recommendation of colleague Daraka Shaheed.
They saw the same efficient delivery and effective location of his fastball that Class A pitching coach Jeff Ware remembers. But what Ware remembered most about Quintana was the quality the Sox have noticed on much bigger stages.
"Nothing seemed to bother him when he was pitching,'' Ware said Monday over the phone. "He certainly had talent with a fastball that had some deception to it. But the biggest thing? His demeanor made it look like he had been pitching for 10 years.''
Funny, about 10 years ago, Quintana just started playing baseball. Colombia hardly represents a hotbed of future major leaguers — Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera are its most famous MLB exports — and Quintana grew up like most kids favoring soccer. One summer, all the spots in the youth soccer leagues filled up.
"So I started playing baseball and liking it,'' said Quintana, whose favorite players were fellow lefties Mark Buehrle and Cliff Lee. "Who would have ever thought I would be where I am now?''
With a bonus of $40,000, the Mets signed Quintana as a 17-year-old in 2006. He returned to Colombia the following season after being suspended for violating minor league baseball's drug policy. When the Sox investigated that incident, they were satisfied Quintana had taken a banned nutritional supplement and nothing steroid-related — and had taken responsibility for his mistake.
"I was young, there was a group of us who didn't know better and I learned from it,'' Quintana said. "That was a very tough year. I thought my career was over.''
After the Mets released him, the Yankees offered Quintana a second chance to make his parents and younger brother, a university student, proud. If the whirlwind pace of going, in less than a month, from facing minor league hitters in Alabama to Andre Ethier at Dodger Stadium has fazed Quintana, it has yet to show.
"The poise comes from a mentality that I'm going to pitch like I'm anywhere — Single A, big leagues, doesn't matter,'' Quintana said.
Thanks to that attitude, a no-name rookie matters more than the Sox ever imagined.
"It's fortunate to be able to have an arm and a kid pitching the way 'Q' is,'' manager Robin Ventura said.
I asked Williams if we should credit good fortune or great scouting for Quintana's success.
"Great scouting, of course,'' he said, smiling.
Division winners need both — but not more than starting pitching.