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José Quintana was washing dishes at his Miami home the day before his flight to Chicago for training camp last summer when a wine glass broke in his hand, cutting his left thumb so severely he needed surgery to repair nerve damage and five stitches to close the wound.
The veteran left-hander missed the first month and a half of the pandemic-shortened 60-game season with the Cubs. When he finally returned and pitched twice in late August, he was sidelined for another two weeks because of inflammation in the back of his throwing shoulder.
Quintana, 32, pitched in only two more games, in the final week of September. One of baseball’s most durable pitchers from 2013 to 2019, when he made at least 32 starts a season for the White Sox and Cubs, the native of Colombia made all of four appearances — and one start — in 2020.
“Last year was really tough for me,” said Quintana, who is looking to rebound after signing a one-year, $8-million deal with the Angels in January. “For all of the pandemic, I was home and safe, and then things happened. It’s weird.”
The Angels are counting on 2020 being a fluke for Quintana, an aberration in a nine-year career in which he’s gone 83-77 with a 3.73 ERA and not the start of a sharp decline.
Angels manager Joe Maddon had Quintana for three seasons (2017-19) with the Cubs. He knows what a healthy Quintana can bring to an Angels rotation that ranked second-to-last in the majors with a 5.52 ERA last season.
“He’s a guy who normally eats up innings,” Maddon said Saturday in a video call from Tempe, Ariz. “He has a repeatable, compact delivery and a nice arm stroke. His success, to me, relies on good game planning. He just needs a little direction on how to attack people ... how to use the really good stuff he already has.”
Quintana won’t overpower hitters with four-seam and two-seam sinking fastballs thrown at about 91 mph. He relies on movement and deception with a pitch mix that includes a 77-mph curve, an 86-mph changeup and an occasional slider.
“We identified one area in which he was really getting his butt kicked pretty good, and we kind of eliminated that,” Maddon said, declining to go into specifics. “It’s part of pitching to the hitters in certain areas. I’m sure other organizations know it, but I don’t want to just say it.”
Quintana was more forthcoming. Most of the damage against him has come on fastballs up in the strike zone, often to right-handed hitters, a perception borne out by advanced pitch-tracking data.
According to Baseball Savant, Quintana yielded a .304 average and .522 slugging percentage on his four-seam fastball and a .333 average and .333 slugging percentage on his sinker in 10 innings last season.
He yielded a .296 average and .435 slugging percentage on his four-seam fastball and a .292 average and .461 slugging percentage on his sinker in 171 innings in 2019. He also had more success with his curve (.242 average, .404 slugging) than his changeup (.338 average, .538 slugging) in 2019.
“It’s been more location, and I’m working a lot on that this spring, trying to get it back to [where it was] in my best years in the big leagues,” Quintana said. “I’m a guy who throws a lot of fastballs. … I think I miss more with the fastball up, especially against righties. That’s what I see in the videos.”
Quintana altered his strength-and-conditioning program this winter to add more mobility. His focus in the early part of camp is on mechanics, especially the alignment of his front shoulder.
“This is a great opportunity to be back in the game,” Quintana said. “Now, I have a lot of expectations of myself and my team.”
Maddon describes Quintana as a “ball of sincerity,” a guy so focused that when Maddon fist-bumps the pitcher before games, “there’s fire coming out of his eyeballs.” The manager loves Quintana’s work ethic and has never heard him make an excuse.
“If he even thinks about it, he’ll bite his lip and move on,” Maddon said. "This guy is highly accountable. … He’s a wonderful teammate. He brings a lot to the table. He was hurt last year, but I know what I’ve seen in the past. This guy is first-rate.”
Matt Wise, who is serving as interim pitching coach for the suspended Mickey Callaway, tested positive for COVID-19 and will be quarantined until he clears the protocol process. Maddon said testing for those who had close contact with Wise this past week did not produce any positives. … Third baseman Anthony Rendon, who lives in Houston, may be a late arrival to camp because of the winter storms that have wreaked havoc on Texas. … Pitcher Jaime Barria is in camp after being slowed by visa issues, but relievers Junior Guerra and Jose Quijada are still awaiting clearance to travel to the U.S. Jose Alberto Rivera, a hard-throwing right-hander who hopes to make the team as a Rule 5 pick, is in the U.S. and going through baseball’s intake process.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.