Stay away from Alcantara on his start days

August 4th, 2022

First pitch is hours away inside the Marlins clubhouse. Braxton Garrett is trying to snag the latest Sandy's Beach T-shirt to wear for batting practice. Joey Wendle is concocting a sports drink mix. Richard Bleier already has finished a crossword puzzle.

In walks ace Sandy Alcantara.

Whether the noise blasting from Miguel Rojas' speaker on the other side of the room suddenly lowers or the chatter briefly stops might just be in your head. Nothing is said as Alcantara arrives at his locker on the immediate right of the clubhouse entrance. After quickly changing, Alcantara tunes out everything around him with the AirPods playing religious music his late mother, Francisca, enjoyed. He takes a seat and begins looking through his phone. He finds relaxation thinking about his family.

Players, coaches, staff members and reporters alike know to proceed with caution. A day before his start and through the end of it, Alcantara is given his space to get in the zone. He developed this routine -- perhaps you could even call it a persona -- around the time of his first All-Star Game in 2019.

"I just like to be quiet," Alcantara said. "They know that. They get a little scared when I'm super quiet. They say, 'He may kill somebody today. Don't say anything to him.'"

It continues to work, as evidenced by his third career shutout in Wednesday night's 3-0 victory over the Reds at loanDepot park. Even when Alcantara isn't flirting with history during a National League Cy Young-worthy season, he keeps to himself during starts, hanging out in the tunnel rather than the dugout.

But Alcantara's actions on start day aren't unique. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. comes from a baseball family, so he learned at an early age the quirks of a starting pitcher. He remembers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling not shying away from others before starts. His older brother Todd, however, was another story.

"I don't know the history, but I have witnessed and had a ringside seat to a lot of angry people getting ready to put a lot of work in and they create their routines," Stottlemyre said. "Look at relievers: They get ready to pitch every day, and so there's a lot of methodical things that go into the start. Some of them start to build that edge early in the day, and they've got to wait a long time. They get there, and they don't want to be messed with."

More than anything, it comes down to personality. Left-hander Trevor Rogers, like Alcantara, isn't very talkative to begin with. When he first arrives at the ballpark, he will hang out with teammates until they head out to the field for batting practice. Rogers stays behind in the clubhouse and gets in the starter's mind-set.

Prior to the scouting meeting with Stottlemyre and that game's catcher, Rogers will sit in silence and put his headphones on. How he did the previous start doesn't affect his pregame routine -- though there is a dash of superstition.

"I keep it the same," Rogers said. "What I do in here really doesn't affect [out there]. There's one song I always listen to right before I go out: 'The Game' by Mot枚rhead. I'll listen to that on repeat for like 20 minutes until I have to go out there. So that locks me in."

Right-hander Pablo L贸pez, easily the most loquacious of the trio, is a bit different from his rotation mates. He didn't realize it was baseball custom to leave the starting pitcher alone until picking up on teammates and coaches not interacting with him as much during his first full season in Low-A.

Very much a creature of habit, L贸pez has a strict routine that begins with showing up "super early" to the ballpark. He dislikes the feeling of being rushed, so rather than getting anxious at home, he will make the trek from his place in Doral to Little Havana. Once there, L贸pez wakes his body up with cold and hot water contrast, then continues with mobility and agility exercises for the lower and upper halves. He stretches inside. Afterwards, he heads to the field for a little jog and stretch to be ready to throw.

"I do so much on my start day that I like to make sure that I'm doing everything on time, and one way to do that is to limit interactions with people," L贸pez said. "The moment I get to the field, I change my clothes and I start getting into my routine. It's been going on for so long in baseball that people know we only pitch once every five games, so I think they're a little more careful to make sure they don't want to disrupt the guy that's going to work today for the first time in the last five days.

"I think that on top of us trying to just remain laser-focused and making sure that we're doing everything right, I am very detailed, very specific, so the littlest distraction can take me away from not doing something, and then that's just going to bug me the rest of the day. When I start playing catch and I start thinking, 'Wow, I didn't do this specific motion, this specific exercise,' I'm going to be thinking about it all game long. If something goes wrong, I'm going to blame it on that. I just try to limit interactions sometimes and just make sure that I go through every step of the way my prep routine and all that."