CLEVELAND — Back on April 10, when Cal Quantrill made his first start of the 2022 season, the Guardians scored 13 runs during his five innings of work and then another four for funsies after his departure. He was the winning pitcher that day in Kansas City, and it was as optimistic an entry point as Quantrill could have hoped for on the heels of last year’s second-half breakout.
Alas, it was no omen for what has followed.
In the time since, Quantrill has made six starts — including his best start of the season in Thursday afternoon’s 4-2 loss to the Reds at Progressive Field — and received a grand total of seven runs of support during those outings. The average of 1.73 runs of support in Quantrill’s last 36 1/3 innings is the third-lowest in MLB in that timeframe (only the Mariners’ Chris Flexen and the Royals’ Brad Keller have been more starved for support going back to April 16).
“The run support doesn’t bother me,” Quantrill said after allowing only a Tyler Naquin solo homer in seven strong innings Thursday. “It doesn’t change anything. Yes, if you get ahead by a lot, maybe you might change your game plan a touch. But I think you attack hitters and try to keep them from scoring runs, and we do our best.”
Quantrill was not at his best two starts ago — against his former team, the Padres. In that outing, he walked five batters in six innings. It was a frustrating outcome for a pitcher who relied on command and weak contact to establish himself in the Cleveland rotation last year, and it was a low point in a somewhat ragged start to a 2022 season in which Quantrill hopes to establish that he’s here to stay.
But while Quantrill, who is winless in each of those last six starts, didn’t get enough support for the Guards to avoid the two-game sweep at the hands of a suddenly awakened Reds team in the final set of the Ohio Cup, the right-hander did look a lot more like the guy who caused a stir last summer. For the second straight start, he didn’t walk anybody, and Naquin’s fifth-inning solo shot to center was one of only five hits allowed in the seven innings of work, with five strikeouts.
“I thought he was terrific,” manager Terry Francona said. “Really, he was good. The run, Naquin got a changeup. It was a really nice piece of hitting. I thought Cal was really good. He’s starting to get a rhythm, which is really good. Maybe on a normal day we’re up here saying he was great and he got out of here after seven. Unfortunately we weren’t doing much off their guy [Tyler Mahle].”
The Guards have not done much offensively against anyone of late, with or without Quantrill on the mound. After leading the Majors in batting average with runners in scoring position in the first 29 games of the season (.299), Cleveland has gone just 8-for-43 (.186) in those situations in the last six games, five of which have been losses.
Quantrill, though, was a bright spot Thursday for a Guardians team that has been surprisingly subpar in the starting pitching department this season. Though the rotation looked to be a team strength entering the season, it entered the day with a 4.64 starters’ ERA that ranked 25th in MLB.
So to see Quantrill tame the Reds’ bats despite having his schedule upended by Wednesday’s last-minute postponement (Quantrill had warmed for a game that didn’t happen) was good for the soul. His four-seam fastball velocity, which had averaged 92.5 mph this season (nearly two points below last year’s average), averaged 93.6 in this start.
“I’m throwing the ball better, commanding the ball better,” Quantrill said. “Some of it, too, is reminding myself what I do well. I don’t think I’ve ever been a command issue guy. It was very weird for me to walk that many players [against the Padres]. I think it was a point of emphasis over the last couple of weeks of getting back in the zone and challenging hitters.”
Quantrill appears to be back on track. Now, he just needs the Guardians’ offense to join him.