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Quantrill adds to optimism about young arms

No. 12 prospect pitches into the sixth, gives up two runs vs. Braves
@AJCassavell
May 2, 2019

ATLANTA -- There are opportunities available for young pitchers in San Diego's rotation. The Padres made that clear from the start. Cal Quantrill -- the team’s No. 12 prospect and 2016 first-round pick -- was the latest to capitalize on that opportunity Wednesday night. In his big league debut, the

ATLANTA -- There are opportunities available for young pitchers in San Diego's rotation. The Padres made that clear from the start.

Cal Quantrill -- the team’s No. 12 prospect and 2016 first-round pick -- was the latest to capitalize on that opportunity Wednesday night.

In his big league debut, the 24-year-old right-hander turned in an impressive performance in the Padres' 5-1 loss to the Braves at SunTrust Park. He allowed two runs over 5 2/3 innings, striking out three and showcasing a much-improved slider to complement his already solid changeup.

Quantrill's outing was something of a familiar sight. In the first 31 games, four starters have debuted for San Diego. Only one team, the 2007 Yankees, had four starting pitchers debut earlier in a season. Quantrill, Nick Margevicius, Chris Paddack and Pedro Avila have combined for a 2.14 ERA and a sub-1 WHIP in those four starts.

“It shows that they're following through on what they were going to do,” Quantrill said. “When I signed, I was told this was the plan. ... They gave me an opportunity, and I feel like I earned it. I did the best I could with it. I like it. There's no reason, in today's game, why a young guy can't compete and dominate.”

A year ago, the Padres had the worst rotation ERA in the National League. They made no additions during the offseason, preferring instead to give their young pitchers a choice: sink or swim.

That decision came under some pretty intense scrutiny at the time. But the rotation has actually been pretty good. Scratch that. It's been really good. San Diego starters own a 3.44 ERA, good enough for fifth in the Majors.

“You watch these guys come through the system, and we've known for a long time we're going to have really good pitching here,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “You expect some bumps. You expect some struggles.

“But it's been nice to see them show up and pitch really well out of the chute. It gives them all confidence that they can pitch here and they belong here. They all do.”

Quantrill certainly pitched like he belonged on Wednesday. He surrendered a leadoff triple to Ozzie Albies, who scored a batter later on Dansby Swanson's sacrifice fly. Then, Albies doubled home a run in the fifth. Otherwise, Atlanta's offense did very little damage off Quantrill.

“In the end, I think I learned that my stuff plays at this level,” Quantrill said. “I can compete here.”

So can Margevicius and Paddack, who have been in the rotation from Day 1. Avila, meanwhile, was called up for a spot start last month and stifled the D-backs. Ultimately, Quantrill might serve the same purpose.

San Diego's rotation is so young, the club has decided to occasionally promote its young arms to extend the time off in between starts. The Padres are monitoring the workloads of their starting five very closely.

“These guys can pitch,” Green said. “Cal's just another one in a line of guys that we trust a lot, and there's more guys down there that we trust. It enables us to do what we've done.”

To the surprise of everyone -- except maybe the Padres -- the rotation hasn’t been a weakness at all. Heck, it might be their strength. Strangely enough, it’s the revamped offense which hasn’t held its own.

The Padres mustered just five hits, including Manny Machado’s fourth-inning homer, and they continued to whiff at an unseemly clip. San Diego mounted a charge in the eighth, loading the bases against the Braves’ scuffling bullpen. But Franmil Reyes bounced to the pitcher before Machado and Hunter Renfroe struck out to end the threat.

“Those are guys we love to have coming up,” Green said. “Came away empty.”

The lackluster offense spoiled yet another impressive debut for a Padres rookie. But it doesn’t diminish Quantrill’s accomplishment. It also doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of the scouting and player development staff to find and prepare so many youngsters for the big leagues so quickly.

When San Diego arrived for camp in Peoria, Ariz., the club informed its young pitchers to forget which levels of the Minors they’d reached in the past. If they were good enough, they’d be in the big leagues.

“They said that before the spring started,” said the 22-year-old Margevicius. “They said that during spring. They're saying that now. It doesn't surprise me at all that they've taken the opportunity to give the young guys a chance.”

The Padres will keep giving the young guys a chance, too. It’s working.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.