BALTIMORE – Too soon to say the Cubs won the Jose Quintana trade?
But the left-hander’s dominant debut against the Orioles three days after he was acquired from the White Sox gave the Cubs their most tangible reason to believe they might catch the first-place Brewers.
With fans holding up “Welcome” signs and a Venezuelan flags, Quintana delivered a gem, pitching seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits without a walk and striking out 12.
The 12 strikeouts tied Matt Garza’s franchise record for a Cubs debut. It also marked a season high for Quintana, one short of his career high.
When he struck out Adam Jones for No. 10 in the sixth, he reached 900 strikeouts in his career.
If Quintana gave the Cubs the boost they were looking for, at least on this day, the Cubs hitters reciprocated with a rare-for-Quintana flurry of run support.
Quintana, whose 95 quality starts since the start of 2013 ranked second in the American League when the Cubs traded for him, also ranked second in that span in worst run support in the AL with 3.95 runs per nine innings.
He got more than that in the second inning alone, when the Cubs led off with four straight hits and batted around for four runs off Ubaldo Jimenez.
They added two more on Kris Bryant’s 19th homer of the year in the fourth for a 6-0 lead.
Quintana had gotten that much run support while in the game only three times in 18 starts for the White Sox this year.
Combined with Jake Arrieta’s start Saturday, Quintana gave the Cubs back-to-back quality starts for the first time since they put together four straight June 22-25.
Quintana, who was acquired in a five-player deal that sent the Cubs’ two prospecs across town, retired the first nine batters he faced, including five strikeouts.
Adam Jones led off the fourth with a ground-rule double to left for the Orioles first hit. After advancing to third on Manny Machado’s grounder to first, Jones was stranded when Quintana struck out Jonathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo to finish the fourth.
The Orioles didn’t reach base again until former Cub Welington Castillo’s two-out single to left in the fifth.
“I was a little surprised that it happened now. Usually a trade like that kind of happens last minute,” said teammate Jon Lester, who starts Monday when the Cubs open a three-game series in Atlanta.
“It’s good for us. We get those extra couple weeks with him here.”
Follow me on Twitter at @GDubCub