August 13, 2022

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Vintage Sandy deals over 8 scoreless frames

3 min read
Run support missing for the Marlins' ace, who ‘doesn’t get a lot of credit’
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Alcantara went eight scoreless innings on 98 pitches, scattering four hits and walking one to go along with six strikeouts. It didn’t look possible after a 27-pitch first, in which he stranded a pair of runners in scoring position.

But Alcantara needed just 71 pitches from there on out:

Second inning: 10 
Third inning: 10 
Fourth inning: 8 
Fifth inning: 10 
Sixth inning: 10 
Seventh inning: 11 
Eighth inning: 12

“I think once he got out of the first, he seemed to get on the attack,” said manager Don Mattingly, who celebrated his 61st birthday. “He is a guy that can go low pitch count, and you don’t really want to get behind him, so teams try to attack him early and get him in the strike zone. He was really good tonight. It’s a shame. You hate to waste one like that.”

Entering Wednesday, Alcantara ranked 19th in the Majors with 15.20 pitches per inning. In 2021, when he was one of just three pitchers to record 200 innings and 200 strikeouts, he finished fifth (15.05 P/IP). A lot of credit goes to him posting the third-highest ground-ball rate.

The 26-year-old righty did more of the same on Wednesday, inducing nine groundouts and six flyouts. He threw his four-seamer, which maxed out at 99 mph in the fifth, up in the zone. His other offerings played in the lower quadrants. Catcher Jacob Stallings said his batterymate had everything working. 

“I think that’s why he’s able to get deep into games, and he only gets better as he goes,” Stallings said. “I’ve seen it firsthand being on the other side. He’s a special pitcher for a reason, and he showed it tonight.”

Three of Alcantara’s four hits allowed didn’t even leave the infield, with a combined distance of 150 feet and an average exit velocity of 65.3 mph. Following that first inning, Alcantara reached a three-ball count just twice — in the second and seventh against Lars Nootbaar. 

When leadoff batter Yadier Molina’s popup (2 percent hit probability) dropped in the eighth, Alcantara got Harrison Bader to fly out and Tommy Edman — who collected two of those infield hits — to ground into a double play. In 2021, Alcantara tied for the seventh-most double plays among National League pitchers. 

“Like I always say, I don’t have to worry too much when I’ve got runners on first or second base because my stuff is too good,” Alcantara said. “I’ve just got to throw my best pitch and get a quick out.”

Through three regular-season starts following an expedited spring, Alcantara’s strikeouts, whiff rate and chase rate are down. Wednesday looked more like vintage Alcantara, who induced weak contact and didn’t worry about striking out batters unless he needed to (like with one out and a runner at third in the first). That has helped him go deep into games.

Since his 2019 All-Star campaign, Alcantara is tied for third in MLB in shutouts (two), sixth in complete games (three) and fifth in innings (464 1/3). Not only is he a model of efficiency but also of consistency and reliability. Unfortunately for the former Cardinals top prospect, there’s often a lack of run support; just 3.2 runs per nine innings last season — third lowest among qualified starters.

“I battled today,” said Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado, who struck out three times against Alcantara before knocking the decisive homer in the ninth against Anthony Bender. “I felt locked in and ready to go, but [Alcantara] just beat me, and that’s going to happen when you face guys as good as he is. You’re going to lose battles like that. He’s really good and is one of the best, but he just doesn’t get a lot of credit.”

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