Quinlan on fire after fixing batting slump

by Tim Klobuchar

It’s been said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in any sport.
For his entire baseball career, Gophers sophomore Robb Quinlan made it look anything but difficult.
He was drafted out of high school by the California (now Anaheim) Angels in the 33rd round of the 1995 free agent draft, and turned down a $180,000 signing bonus to go to Minnesota.
As a freshman last season, Quinlan played in all but three of the Gophers’ games. He proved immediately he could hit at the Division I collegiate level, finishing the year with a .325 average and a school record-tying six triples.
His previous success made his 1-for-26 (.038) start this year even harder to fathom. But it also helped both Quinlan and Gophers coach John Anderson remain confident that the hits would eventually come.
Anderson thinks Quinlan’s offense is so automatic that he makes it sound like the easiest of athletic activities — riding a bicycle.
“He’s always hit at every level he’s played at,” Anderson said. “You don’t just lose that ability, so we were confident that he’d come out of his slump.”
Quinlan began his break-out against UCLA in the Hormel Classic early this month, blasting a home run over the center field wall at the Metrodome. That started a 13-game hitting streak that finally ended on Saturday with an 0-for-4 day in the second game of a doubleheader with Purdue.
During that stretch, Quinlan hit .448, and is now hitting .319 on the season. That he would eventually start to swing better wasn’t in doubt, but Quinlan still didn’t think the turnaround would be this dramatic.
“I expected to come out of it slowly,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d come out of it this good. The UCLA game first started it, and I’ve kept it up.”
Quinlan hasn’t exactly been raising his average with bloopers and seeing-eye ground balls, either. Over his hitting streak he pounded out 14 doubles, including three Friday night. His 16 doubles on the season is just eight short of the school record. And the Gophers are not even at the halfway point of the season yet.
There were a few theories as to why Quinlan suddenly lost his stroke early in the season. Teammate Craig Selander thought it was because of the difference between the pitching he had seen in practice and in games.
“Our pitching staff throws a lot of cutters,” he said. “So when we face our pitchers in batting practice, we don’t see as much of the big breaking balls. I think he just needed time to adjust. He’ll do fine the rest of the season.”
Anderson thought there might have been a correlation between the slump at the plate and Quinlan’s position change. After playing mostly left field last year, he made the move to shortstop this season. Anderson thought that the extensive work Quinlan was putting into his defense was affecting his offense, a notion which Quinlan dismissed.
“I didn’t think that was the problem,” he said. “I just wasn’t hitting. It didn’t really matter what position I was playing.”
The low point came near the end of Minnesota’s season-opening trip to Alabama and Mississippi, when Quinlan, already struggling, got hit on the left elbow by a pitch, further hampering his swing.
When he got back to school, he looked at a videotape of his swing and found the flaw.
“I was looping a little bit in my swing,” he said. “I looked at past tape of myself and made the adjustment.”
Quinlan moved back to left field after the UCLA game, and coincidentally or not, he has hit well ever since. And for a player who has shuttled between positions during his career, he has also played excellent defense. With the score tied at five in the sixth inning on Friday night, Quinlan made a diving catch in the gap, saving a run. The Gophers went on to win 8-5.
Still, no matter how many sparkling defensive plays Quinlan makes, he knows hitting is his calling card. Fortunately, he never lost faith in it, even after his horrendous start.
“I was pretty confident,” he said. “I took some extra cuts in batting practice, and it’s helped. I was just in a little slump.”