By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The two pitchers were together in the same rotation for five season, the reliable front men for the White Sox pitching staff. Come Tuesday evening, Jose Quintana and Chris Sale will match up for the first time ever as opponents.
Sale was traded to the Red Sox last December in a blockbuster trade that netted the White Sox four top young players, led by Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. As for Quintana, he’s now at the center of trade talks and the favorite child of the rumor mill as the White Sox rebuild.
What’s left is a huge mutual admiration society.
“I learned from him how to focus on the game,” Quintana said of Sale. “He had so much passion when he pitches. We talked a lot about pitching. The things I learned the most were focus and passion from him.”
Prior to Monday’s matchup between the teams, a 5-4 win for Chicago over Boston, the return of Sale was a focus at Guaranteed Rate Field. He was honored with a video tribute during the first inning of the game and greeted to an ovation from the fans on hand.
The sexy matchup of the two left-handed All-Star hurlers will be watched by more than just Red Sox and White Sox fans. Many scouts with a focus on Quintana will be witness to the contest.
Quintana is one of the top pitchers deemed available to acquire in a trade for the right mix of prospects. The trading deadline for non-waiver moves is fast approaching, now just eight weeks away.
In the meantime, Quintana has had an uneven campaign in 2017. His 2-6 record and a 4.82 ERA isn’t appealing on the surface. Those numbers, however, won’t stop clubs from stepping up for his services.
“We know who Quintana is,” a National League talent evaluator said. “We really don’t care what the record is or how affordable the contract is. We look to see if he has good stuff. We also look at the intangibles around the pitcher before we fill out evaluation analysis input. He has been a strong No. 3 in my reports the last few years. Is he healthy or distracted in some way? Those are things we hope to find out when we watch him now. We know for sure that the guy is a damn good competitor.”
Quintana keeps an eye on his old friend Sale from afar. Sale is pitching at top form with the Red Sox, working with a 5-2 record and 2.34 ERA in 10 starts.
Sale recently ended a run that saw him strike out 10 or more batters in eight straight starts, tying a record set by the great Pedro Martinez. Upon his warm welcome at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday, Sale met with former White Sox teammates and exchanged pleasantries.
“I know he is pitching really good,” Quintana said. “There is no question he is the best left-handed pitcher in the league. I am happy to see him again.”
The feeling in baseball is a starting pitcher goes against the other club’s lineup, not the opponent’s starting pitcher. That will be hard to sell Tuesday evening when these outstanding pitchers and great friends face each other.
“I will not think about that,” Quintana said. “This is just one game. I will have my focus on throwing the ball well and helping my team to win. That is my focus every time. I will just try and do my job. It may be a different feeling playing against him. I just have to pay attention to doing my job.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.