LAKE ELSINORE, Calif.—Cal Quantrill took the mound on a sweltering 101-degree day Sunday with one goal in mind.
No matter what the circumstances, the Padres’ No. 4 prospect was determined to finish the first half of the California League season strong.
“I think today maybe more than most days I had a little bit of anger,” Quantrill said. “I’ve had a couple up-and-down starts lately. I wanted to have a good one.”
Quantrill did just that, pitching five innings with one run allowed and five strikeouts to lead high Class A Lake Elsinore to a 2-1 win over Stockton (Athletics) in the final game of the first half.
Quantrill enters the All-Star break 4-5, 3.69 with 65 strikeouts and 21 walks in 61 innings. It has been an encouraging start for the Padres’ 2016 first-round pick, particularly because he hasn’t thrown more than 37 innings in a season since he was a Stanford freshman in 2014. Tommy John surgery wiped out most of 2015 and 2016.
“I sometimes forget myself that this really is my first time consistently starting five, six, seven innings, whatever I can get,” Quantrill said. “I’ve had some bumps but I’ve also felt pretty good . . . No complaints, arm-wise especially. Knock on wood, but it’s felt pretty good so far.”
Quantrill not only survived his latest start in the scorching heat, but excelled in it. He sat 93-95 mph with his fastball and held his velocity to the end even as the afternoon sun rose and the stadium became a sauna. His renowned plus-plus changeup drew countless lunging swings and helped him record 10 groundouts against zero air-outs. Even his mid-80s slider, his decided third pitch, was effective at key moments. Aside from a rocky third inning where his fastball command temporarily left him, Quantrill was in complete control.
“I saw a very good downhill angle on his fastball and all his pitches are going to be better because of that,” Lake Elsinore manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “That’s what we saw today. His angle makes his slider and changeup work better instead of when he gets too flat on his fastball. He was getting on top of the ball and getting that angle. For him that’s huge because he has a natural delivery.”
Quantrill has long been known as a fastball-changeup pitcher, but has taken great pains to improve his breaking pitches. Their progress has been noticeable and helped him navigate the notoriously hitter-friendly Cal League.
“My dad (former major league reliever Paul Quantrill) and I have kind of been joking that I feel like I finally have four pitches and I don’t know when to use them,” Quantrill said. “Having four pitches and working your way through a lineup two or three times, sometimes you don’t use them all. Today I didn’t use my curveball and that’s been a game-changer for me in the first half, but it was a lefty-stacked lineup and I didn’t use one today. The slider felt pretty good, threw one bad one, but the rest were adequate I thought.”
Quantrill has been durable and healthy, and has improved his breaking balls. Everything he wanted to accomplish in the first half of his first full professional season, he can legitimately claim to have done.
“I want to get on a good trajectory, be good, even, consistent throughout the rest of the year,” Quantrill said. “I think today was kind of proof to me of ‘All right, even if you’re not feeling your absolute best, we’re going to find a way to win.’”
NEWS AND NOTES
• Quantrill had an injury scare at the end of the fifth inning. He recorded his final out when he fielded Seth Brown’s roller along the third-base line and fired a long throw to first in time, but he slipped making the throw and remained down on the ground holding his right knee. Trainers tended to Quantrill for roughly a minute before he walked off the field under his own power. Postgame both he and Rodriguez said there was no swelling, and he was walking in the clubhouse at a normal gait without ice or bandages on his knee.
“Knee is good,” Quantrill said. “It was just one of those weird ones where my cleat didn’t turn with the leg. Hurt at first, but it’s fine.”
• Austin Allen, the Padres No. 30 prospect, hit a two-run home run in the second inning that traveled an estimated 423 feet. Allen enters the break hitting .247/.341/.394 with 14 doubles, five home runs and 27 RBIs.