Cardinal freshman Cal Quantrill earned the win Saturday in Stanford's 6-2 victory over USC, its first in Pac-12 play. The right-hander had his scoreless-innings streak snapped at 15.
STANFORD — When Stanford senior A.J. Vanegas entered Saturday’s game in relief of starter Cal Quantrill, it was the first time in two conference baseball games an underclassman wasn’t on the mound for the Cardinal.
Stanford rode the freshman Quantrill to its first Pac-12 Conference victory Saturday at Sunken Diamond with a 6-2 win over USC. Coming off a complete-game shutout of Kansas March 9, Quantrill has been the Cardinal’s most productive pitcher this season, posting a 3-2 record to pace the team in wins.
The freshman class has served as the mainstay of the Stanford pitching staff this season. Heading into Sunday’s rubber match with USC, Quantrill, Brett Hanewich, Tyler Thorne and Chris Viall had combined for a 6-4 record. In fact, junior left-hander John Hochstatter — with a 2-1 record — is the only non-underclassman to record a decision for Stanford this season.
All the freshmen have done a good job, Cardinal manager Mark Marquess said.
With the departure of senior ace Mark Appel — last year’s No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft — Stanford’s rotation was expected to go through something of an identity crisis at the start of the current season. But the Cardinal were also dealt an unexpected loss when sophomore Freddy Avis had to undergo labrum surgery just prior to the start of the season.
Avis — a Menlo School graduate — was plagued by injury throughout his freshman campaign last season, only appearing in one game. Both Marquess and pitching coach Rusty Filter are optimistic about Avis’ chances to recover from the surgery to repair the shoulder of his throwing arm and be ready for the start of the 2015 season.
“Freddy, he’ll be fine,” Marquess said. “He probably could pitch in May but we’re just going to pitch him in the summer and then he’ll come back and he’ll be fine.”
To help make up for the loss of the local kid, Stanford is relying on the recruit from across the border. Quantrill — a native of Port Hope, Ontario — has emerged as a cornerstone of the weekend rotation. Saturday, the freshman worked 6 1-3 innings, allowing one run on six hits while striking out five to win his third consecutive decision.
And after a tough loss Friday night in the Pac-12 opener in which a late 3-1 lead was trumped by a three-run rally by USC in the eighth to stun Stanford 4-3, it was paramount for the Cardinal to make a statement on the diamond Saturday — not just to their opponents, but to themselves.
“That one really hurt [Friday] night,” Stanford senior Danny Diekroeger said. “So, we were really coming out hot [Saturday] and we will be [Sunday] too.”
Along with Vanegas, Diekroeger is one of just two seniors on the Stanford roster this season. And he’s playing like it. The left-handed-hitting Diekroeger — who grew up in Woodside and, like Avis, is a Menlo grad — has settled into the leadoff spot nicely this season. He entered into play Sunday hitting .333 (19 for 57) while leading the Cardinal with 19 runs and is tied for the team lead with five doubles. He also ranks third in the Pac-12 with a .479 on base percentage.
“I’m just trying to be really consistent with my approach,” Diekroeger said. “It’s a tough game. It’s tough to hit. But I’m just trying to be really consistent and not give away many at bats.”
Diekroeger’s words are pretty much a family mantra, as his two brothers are also prolific hitters. His older brother Kenny was a career .307 hitter at Stanford before being drafted by the Royals in the fourth round in 2012. His younger brother Mikey is a senior at Menlo where he’s posted a .358 career batting average and is hitting .300 on the current season.
But while it’s the same old Diekroeger prowess at the plate, things have changed on the defensive side of the ball for the senior. Having played second base during his three previous seasons at Stanford, Diekroeger has shifted to first base this year to make room for freshman defensive wunderkind Tommy Edman.
“[Marquess] was telling me that he was thinking about [moving me to first] and I was trying to convince him to keep me elsewhere,” Diekroeger said. “But it just so happened that there was kind of a hole. They didn’t really need me on the infield because there were all these other guys who could play second and third and short. So, I’m just trying to be the best first baseman I can be right now.”
Entering into Sunday with a .988 fielding percentage, Diekroeger has played the position like a natural. And Saturday, he made a couple of key plays to help preserve Quantrill’s outstanding outing.
In the second, with USC runners at first and third, Diekroeger made a great diving catch in foul ground to corral a pop-up bunt off the bat of Frankie Rios. Quantrill went on to escape the inning with no damage done after catching Trojans sophomore Bobby Stahel trying to swipe home on a wheel steal to end the inning.
In the sixth, Diekroeger made a sweet scoop on a dazzling play by third baseman Alex Blandino, who had to charge a slow chopper off the bat of Timmy Robinson, make a barehanded grab and fire to first on the run. The off-balance throw looked to be headed down the right-field line but Diekroeger got full extension across his body and laid out to make the grab.
Before getting touched for a run in the seventh, Quantrill held USC scoreless through six to extend his streak of 15 consecutive scoreless innings. Vanegas — an unsigned 19th round pick of the A’s last year — was solid through 2 2-3 innings to close it out for his first save of the season.
“They’re all big (wins), especially in conference,” Marquess said. “We had 12 days off (for final exams) and we let one slip away from us [Friday] night. But it was good to get one for us. Yeah, big win for us.”
The Cardinal (1-2 in Pac-12, 8-10 overall) dropped their opening three-game series Sunday, falling 6-3 to USC (3-3, 12-10). Sophomore Logan James took the loss. Stanford’s sophomore hurlers are now 0-5 on the season.