MIAMI -- Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara is one cool customer, but he looked uncharacteristically out of sorts during the first inning of Wednesday night’s game at loanDepot park.
So shortstop Miguel Rojas, the club’s longest-tenured player and unofficial captain, visited the mound after Alcantara loaded the bases with one out. Rojas was surprised to find Alcantara breathing fast, a sign the game was speeding up on him.
“I feel like Sandy after the All-Star break has been rushing a little bit,” Rojas said. “I feel like he was amped up and he wanted to do a lot. There's a lot on his plate right now. He's been getting a lot of attention in the media, on our team, and I feel like that's never easy to actually handle yourself. You need some help from your teammates. And that's what I told him: ‘You're in control, bro, just let us do the work for you. Put the ball on the ground and we will make a play for you.’”
Alcantara regrouped to toss his third career shutout in a 3-0 victory over the Reds, snapping Miami’s five-game skid.
The 26-year-old right-hander, who is a strong candidate for the National League Cy Young Award, bounced back from a pair of average outings -- at least by his standards -- when he gave up six combined runs in 11 innings to the Pirates and Mets. Alcantara said he has felt out of rhythm since his All-Star appearance.
“I said this before: This is like an elevator,” Alcantara said. “You’re going to have up and down. Doesn't matter what happens in any situation, just have to keep positive, and keep competing. I got a couple bad outings, and I don't have to worry, because I've got time to improve and time to improve my pitches and time to go outside and compete.”
It seemed improbable Alcantara would turn in another masterpiece considering he needed 22 pitches to get through that first inning. Jonathan India led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Jake Fraley flied out, Mike Moustakas walked and Joey Votto reached on a roller down the first-base line that Alcantara was unable to cleanly scoop. With the bases loaded and one out, he fielded consecutive comebackers -- one which grazed his right leg -- to escape the jam.
Once he did that, manager Don Mattingly knew the Reds were about to get a full dose of Alcantara, who needed 105 pitches (75 strikes) to record his MLB-best third complete game of the season and the sixth of his career. All six hits he gave up were singles. He struck out three and walked one.
The two-time All-Star’s previous two shutouts came on May 19 and Sept. 8 of the 2019 season. His six complete games since 2019 are tied with Cardinals veteran Adam Wainwright for the most in the Majors in that span.
Alcantara’s defense Wednesday also helped him out, turning double plays in the third and seventh innings. No. 5 prospect JJ Bleday recorded his first career assist in his first start in left field, throwing out Votto trying to stretch a single into a double to lead off the fourth.
“[Alcantara] is really special,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He’s having a great season, but he’s a great talent, and he’s going to be a good pitcher for a long time. We created an opportunity for ourselves in the first inning. It would have been great to see what would’ve happened if that ball Donovan [Solano] hit got past the pitcher. We weren’t able to score there, and then he just cruised the rest of the way. Definitely, I want to give him all the credit. He’s a really good pitcher.”
With his latest performance, Alcantara continues to lead the Majors in innings (158 1/3) and the NL in ERA (1.88). Due to two off-days on the schedule, he doesn’t line up to start again until Wednesday in Philadelphia.
“A couple of things: It was nice to keep Pablo [López at the Trade Deadline], to get that out of the way and leave our rotation intact and get our guys back,” Mattingly said. “So you feel like you're going to have your rotation moving forward. That's going to be pretty solid if we stay injury free.
“And obviously Sandy has been historical this year from what he's been able to do. We'll see where this goes. We'll be taking care of him. I think he's getting seven days [rest] this next time. So he's going to get a little breather here. We've been talking about it, we've got his schedule set up for the rest of the way. So just kind of watch it, let it go. Let the season pass, and it'll be fun to watch.”