OAKLAND -- Cal Quantrill wasn’t his sharpest on Saturday. He struggled to consistently find the zone; most innings were a stressful endeavor. But at the end of it all, he had himself a not-too-shabby day at the office.
Quantrill grinded through five innings in Cleveland’s 3-2 win over the A’s at Oakland Coliseum, working out of trouble multiple times to hold Oakland's lineup to one run. The midseason transition from reliever to starter hasn’t been easy, but with every outing, Quantrill is becoming more and more comfortable.
“He gave up one in the first and then kept them off the scoreboard," manager Terry Francona said. "It wasn’t easy all the time, but he did it. He competed like crazy.”
Quantrill has plenty of experience as a starter, dating back to his time with San Diego, but he has primarily been used in relief during his time with Cleveland. He’s become accustomed to life in the bullpen and he has excelled in the role to begin the year, posting a 2.03 ERA in his first 17 relief appearances. Upon transitioning to the rotation in late-May, Quantrill had to adjust on the fly.
Starting games felt familiar, but the transition was choppy. Quantrill described his first month as a starter as a grind. The routine that worked for him as a reliever didn’t translate as well to starting. In his first six starts he posted a 7.22 ERA. Quantrill needed to re-discover what worked for him, and as of late, he appears to have done so.
“I think that we really committed these last three, four starts going through a starter’s routine, preparing to start, no fear of going back to the 'pen,” said Quantrill, who has a 3.91 ERA in his last three starts. “It has felt better. I feel like we’ve had a better approach. We’ve gotten better and made better pitches.”
While Quantrill has been pitching better as a starter, Saturday’s outing was taxing. Quantrill wasn’t especially sharp, often missing high or outside -- or both -- with some of his pitches. He threw 48 strikes to 37 balls and he ran into several three-ball counts. Still, Quantrill managed to squeeze his way out of tough spots.
No jam was stickier than the one Quantrill encountered in the fifth inning. To begin the frame, Tony Kemp hit an infield single. Then Quantrill plunked Aramis Garcia and Mark Canha with back-to-back pitches to load the bases with no outs and the heart of the order due up. Despite the poor odds, Quantrill escaped without a scratch.
The first batter to contend with was Elvis Andrus, who has tormented Cleveland for more than a decade.
Entering play, Andrus had a .371 batting average against Cleveland -- the highest mark against any opponent in the shortstop’s career. Andrus had already totaled three hits against the Tribe on Friday, and was the tying run on Jed Lowrie’s two-run walk-off homer. That’s all to say Andrus was one of the worst batters to face in the high-leverage situation.
Quantrill left a slider up in the zone to Andrus, but the shortstop grounded into a rare 5-2-3 double play, putting runners at second and third with two outs. With an open base, Quantrill wanted nothing to do with Matt Olson and walked the All-Star on five pitches.
On his final pitch of the afternoon, Quantrill left another slider up in the strike zone, but Mitch Moreland just missed the sweet spot, flying out to center field and ending the threat and, by extension, Quantrill's afternoon.
“That’s probably why we took him out of the game,” Francona said. “I thought he had expended so much energy to get out of that that it was probably time.”
From there the bullpen held down the fort -- albeit not without more late-inning drama.
Fewer than 24 hours removed from Lowrie's walk-off homer against Emmanuel Clase, the A’s threatened to walk it off again, this time against James Karinchak. Oakland plated a run off Karinchak in the ninth inning by way of Sean Murphy’s sacrifice fly, but with a two-run lead heading into the frame, Cleveland’s late-inning specialist managed to slam the door and locked in the win.
Clase had a nice bounceback after allowing the two-run home run to Lowrie on Friday night, retiring the side in the eighth inning with two strikeouts.
“I was really happy for Emmanuel,” Francona said. “I was hoping we’d get him back out there today and I thought that was good for him.”
Quantrill expressed confidence in the bullpen as well, saying, "There [are] no guys I’d rather be following me up than what we have right now."
While he’s no longer part of that unit locking down the later innings, his transition to the rotation is beginning to reap benefits.