Sandy Alcantara is a throwback and it’s part of what makes him a modern marvel in MLB. He redefines the masterpiece start by going back to what the standard once was: If he gives up a run or two, or doesn’t hit double-digit strikeouts, then he doesn’t really care too much, just as long as he’s giving the Miami Marlins the seven or eight innings he knows he should.
There are different levels of masterpieces, though, and Alcantara’s latest might have just set a new standard for the Cy Young Award hopeful.
With 107 pitches, Alcantara went eight innings, gave up just two hits, no walks and no runs and struck out 10, including Mike Trout twice. The Marlins beat the Los Angeles Angels, 2-1, in Miami for their sixth straight win, moving within a game of .500 for the first time in almost two months.
“He’s just doing it differently than anyone in the game does it right now,” catcher Jacob Stallings said. “He just struck too many people out tonight. That’s why he couldn’t go nine.”
It was pegged as a star-studded, showcase opportunity for Alcantara delivered his best start of the year, further bolstering his case to start for the National League in the 2022 MLB All-Star Game on July 19.
His ERA is down to 1.82 — the second best in the NL — and his 123 1/3 innings pitched are 19 more than anyone else in the Majors. He also has the fourth most strikeouts in the league and has pitched at least eight innings eight times — something no one else in MLB has done more than three times.
He took a perfect game into the fifth inning before gave up a softly hit, two-out single and never let someone reach third base with fewer than two outs. In six combined plate appearances against Alcantara, Trout and superstar designated hitter Shohei Ohtani combined to go 1 of 6, with two strikeouts and one measly infield single.
Trout and Ohtani have combined to win four MLB Most Valuable Player Awards and might be the two best hitters in the league. If they are, then Alcantara might just be the best player — he does, after all, lead the Majors in wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
“Sandy’s a show every time he pitches,” manager Don Mattingly said and 13,338 came to loanDepot park to watch it this time.
He wasted no time to put one on Tuesday. In the first inning, Alcantara hit 100 mph five times, struck out Trout looking and got Ohtani to ground out to end a 1-2-3 inning.
The game plan, Stallings said, was to pump fastballs against the Angels, who prefer to swing at low pitches. It prompted some concern for the 32-year-old backstop.
“I was a little concerned he was going to wear down,” Stallings said, only it never did. The radar gun flashed 100 mph 14 times and his three fastest pitches came on his 94th, 103rd and 106th.
Mattingly said he initially planned to send Alcantara back out for the ninth inning until the bottom of the eighth went long enough to give him pause. Relief pitcher Tanner Scott entered with a 2-0 lead thanks to two solo home runs by outfielders Garrett Cooper and Bryan De La Cruz, and notched his 10th save of the season, despite giving up a run.
The decision, Mattingly said, had more to do with prioritizing Alcantara’s long-term health than any concerns he might be too rusty to finish his third complete game of the season. He would have had to face Trout one more time and it wouldn’t have been too much of a concern — Alcantara won 2 of 3 showdowns with the All-Star outfielder and gave up an infield single in the third.
In the fourth inning, he beat Trout by pumping six 99-mph pitches over the plate and finished off the nine-pitch at-bat by zipping one of those late-fading fastballs past the 31-year-old star with nearly 15 inches of break.
“I just went inning by inning, evaluating the hitter,” Alcantara said. “If you don’t have a chance against my fastball, I’ve got to use it and I used it a lot tonight.”
In the seventh, he gave up his second and final hit of the game to Trout when shortstop Miguel Rojas couldn’t quite get a long throw over to first base in time. It set off the trickiest situation of the game for Alcantara and navigated it calmly.
Ohtani was up next and knocked a ground ball right back to Alcantara. Rather than make the easy play and throw to first, he turned to second, set his feet and fired a strike to Rojas to cut down the lead runner. After Ohtani stole second base, Alcantara got Los Angeles outfielder Taylor Ward to fly out to center field, which let Ohtani move to third, and then struck out Jared Walsh on 101-mph sinker to keep Miami (39-40) ahead 2-0.
Stallings pointed at Alcantara after the Angels slugger swung through the gravity-defying final pitch of the half inning — a pitch with the triple-digit speed of the best fastballs and nearly 30 inches of movement as if it was a breaking ball. Alcantara did nothing but walk off the mound: It was his 94th pitch of the game and he was not done. In the eighth, he added two more strikeouts.
In the bottom of the seventh, Stallings reached base with a one-out single and struck up a conversation with Walsh over at first base.
“That pitch,” he said Walsh told him, “was a strike the whole way until I swung and it moved like two feet.”
He left out a crucial detail, though.
“And,” he told Walsh, “it was 101.”
Stalling can’t help but be giddy.
“It’s an honor to catch him,” he said. “He’s just special, man.”
The latest on Chisholm, Berti
The Marlins are hopeful Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s back injury won’t keep him out for quite as long as Brian Anderson’s did last month.
Chisholm, 24, went on the 10-day injured list last Wednesday after he battled a back injury for about a week. He’s now up in Jupiter, doing mobility exercises and trying to ramp back up for game action as quickly as possible.
Mattingly, however, said Chisholm’s diagnosis was similar to Anderson’s and Anderson almost exactly a month after he went on IL in May.
“Hopefully, we’re not at that,” Mattingly said. “We don’t think we are, but we’ll see how it goes.”
The timing is unfortunate for Chisholm: The star middle infielder is one of the finalists to start at second base for the NL in the MLB All-Star Game and there’s a good chance he’ll still be on the IL then.
“We’re trying to be conservative, make sure he’s ready for the long haul,” Mattingly said.
This long-term view is also why Jon Berti was out of the lineup for the second straight game Tuesday. The speedy utility player is dealing with some “tightness” in his “lower extremities,” Mattingly said, and Miami hopes back-to-back days off will keep the 32-year-old fresh as he’s on pace for to set a new career high in games played.
Berti entered Tuesday leading MLB with 22 stolen bases.
“We feel like the two days is going to be really beneficial,” Mattingly said. “He’s a guy that we don’t want to lose at this point. He’s been too valuable. He does too many things.”
A slew of pitchers are also progressing in their recoveries throughout the organization: Louis Head threw a 19-pitch bullpen session Saturday and will throw another bullpen Wednesday, Edward Cabrera threw a 25-pitch bullpen session Monday and is scheduled for another bullpen Thursday, Jesus Luzardo threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Tuesday and Sixto Sanchez is scheduled to throw a 30-pitch side session Wednesday.
Pitcher Cody Poteet also began a rehabilitation assignment Monday, starting and throw two hitless innings for Class A Jupiter.
The most unique show in sports will take center stage in South Florida: Ohtani, the Angels’ two-way sensation, will take the mound as the starting pitcher for Los Angeles (37-45) on Wednesday at 6:40 p.m. as the Marlins wrap up their quick two-game homestand.
Trevor Rogers will take the mound for Miami, still searching for some consistency this year after he was made the 2021 MLB All-Star Game as a rookie last season. The starting pitcher has just a 5.56 ERA so far this year, although his last outing was one of his best of the season, as he gave up just one run in five innings to the Washington Nationals on Friday.