February 3, 2023

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Sandy 'trained to go 9,' will settle for 7

4 min read
Alcantara continues to be both ace, workhorse with 5th straight start of 7 innings or more
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MIAMI — A baseball generation or two ago, Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara would be throwing 130-pitch complete games each time out. But it is 2022, and that would be unheard of in this era.

In Thursday night’s 3-0 victory over the Giants at loanDepot park, Alcantara had to settle for seven innings on 111 pitches. With his latest gem, Alcantara went ahead of teammate Pablo López for the best ERA (1.81) in the National League and maintained his lead for the most innings (74 2/3) in the Majors.

“He says that he’s trained to go nine, he’s built to go nine,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He trains himself to be able to do that. He’s got a simple delivery where you don’t see a lot of stress. It’s not max effort. I’ve said it many times when Sandy’s pitching: It’s like he’s playing catch at 98 [mph], and it’s just easy. Not that it’s still not stressful on his arm and everything else, but I think the way he takes care of himself, the way he prepares, is special.”

Shortly after yet another masterful performance, Alcantara already was thinking of his Friday afternoon workout, which will consist of two hours and 30 minutes at the gym. That work ethic is a primary reason for Alcantara’s success, and there has been plenty of it this season.

Since May 11, Alcantara has a 0.69 ERA over five starts. He has gone at least seven innings in all of them — something that hasn’t been done by a Marlin since Aníbal Sánchez had six in a row from April 21 to May 19, 2012.

What else separates Alcantara from other pitchers?

Look no further than @PitchingNinja’s Twitter feed during the game. He marveled at three of Alcantara’s offerings: the sinker, the changeup and the slider — and with good reason. While Alcantara entered Thursday with an average of 17.9 inches of movement on his two-seamer, that reached 20 inches several times on Thursday. That is elite. Alcantara’s game-high velocity of 100.4 mph came on his strikeout of red-hot Joc Pederson to end the sixth — on his 104th pitch, no less.

The 26-year-old Alcantara is one of only two Major League pitchers to boast an average velocity of at least 89 mph for a slider, 97 mph for a four-seamer and 91 mph for a changeup. Tigers reliever Gregory Soto is the other. Alcantara’s four-seamer, which is usually his most-thrown offering (27.4 percent), occupies the top of the zone for a balanced four-pitch arsenal.

“I think everything was good tonight,” said Alcantara, who recorded his 500th career strikeout. “Everything was good, but my two-seam was amazing because I was throwing on both sides to a lefty and righty.”

And logic says pitchers tire as the game wears on. That’s where Alcantara’s training, which he credits to former teammate José Ureña, comes into play. Mattingly has repeatedly remarked about Alcantara’s ability to finish strong.

Alcantara’s splits support the observation:

• First-inning ERA: 2.45
• First-third innings: 1.64 ERA
• Fourth-sixth innings: 2.37 ERA
• Seventh-ninth innings: 0.79 ERA

Such was the case on Thursday. Alcantara needed 25 pitches in the first and 55 through three frames. He threw 56 pitches over the next four, retiring 11 of 13 batters in that span.

“Sandy is one of the tougher starters in baseball,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “He’s just really effective. Sometimes, the starting pitcher on the other side does a great job. He did a great job tonight. Even when I thought we had a decent approach, we drove his pitch count up pretty good. Kind of had him in a situation where he wasn’t going to pitch in the eighth or the ninth inning, possible that we were able to knock him out sometime in the sixth. We weren’t able to do that.”

Alcantara, who flew back to Miami ahead of the Marlins because of Wednesday’s doubleheader in Denver, got home around 1 a.m. Thursday.

Asked whether this was the best he has felt, Alcantara said that’s when he throws a complete game and the Marlins win. Alcantara went 1-for-2 in that regard in the series opener. If he had his way, he’d be throwing 130 — or 150 pitches — to go the distance.

“I hang out with him after games, [and] the other day in Atlanta, he’s worrying about getting to the field early the next day because he wants to work out, he needs to do his routine,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “That’s what really makes a difference in a guy like him. It’s not just the talent. The talent can be there, but talent can take you to just some places. So for me, that’s the difference I’m seeing in Sandy. A more mature player, and really taking advantage of this great opportunity.”

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