MIAMI -- During the early part of Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara’s career, he didn’t pile up strikeouts. As he has taken his game to another level in 2021, they have increased. Manager Don Mattingly envisions the same sort of trajectory for rookie right-hander Edward Cabrera.
The Marlins caught a glimpse of that potential in Saturday night’s 6-3 loss to the Pirates at loanDepot park.
Cabrera entered his fifth start fanning just nine of the first 71 batters that he had faced at the Major League level -- well below his 9.5 K/9 mark across parts of five Minor League seasons. He bucked that trend by retiring six of the first 10 batters he faced via the strikeout en route to a career-high seven across four innings on Saturday.
“To be honest, when his stuff is in the zone, he gets outs,” catcher Nick Fortes said. “His stuff is so good. Every time that I catch him, I try to have a good mix going into the game, make sure that he's utilizing all of his pitches and matching up with hitters properly. Tonight, it seemed to work for him and [for] both of us. We got a lot of strikeouts, which is always great. I love seeing Cabby get a lot of strikeouts, so it was a lot of fun.”
Fortes and Cabrera were batterymates twice before at Triple-A Jacksonville, including a 12-K performance on July 30. Fortes joined Payton Henry in making his Major League debut as the starting catcher, becoming the first duo to do so as backstops on consecutive days since the St. Louis Browns' Joe Jenkins and Jack Enzenroth on April 30 and May 1, 1914.
Cabrera dealt with traffic on the bases in all four frames, but he limited the damage to three unearned runs on five hits with three walks to go along with the seven K's. Because of how much he had to work, Cabrera was done after 79 pitches.
In a 16-pitch first inning, Cabrera took a walk on the wild side. Half of his pitches were outside the strike zone. On consecutive breaking balls with a runner on second and one out, his 89.9 mph slider and 84 mph curveball got away from Fortes to score the game’s first run.
After back-to-back baserunners reached and another wild pitch advanced them in the second inning, Fortes and shortstop Miguel Rojas visited Cabrera for a mound meeting with a 3-1 count to Hoy Park, who would go on to walk. Following a strikeout of starting pitcher Bryse Wilson, Fortes touched base with Cabrera again prior to facing Ke’Bryan Hayes. He struck out with the bases loaded to end the frame, and the Cabrera-Fortes battery was able to settle down for the most part after that.
“It was mostly because they wanted to give me some chance to breathe,” said Cabrera via an interpreter. “The movement of the inning was really fast. They did a great job just going over there and giving me some time to breathe, and just catch up on my tempo again.”
Despite being handed a second loss, Saturday was an improvement over Cabrera’s previous three starts (9 ER/10 IP). That stretch followed his sterling debut, when he took a shutout into the seventh on Aug. 25 against the Nationals. His success on Saturday was due in large part to his slider, which has a 60 grade on the 20-80 scale, according to MLB Pipeline's scouting report.
Cabrera tallied eight whiffs on 13 swings, including five strikeouts. It was the only pitch of his four offerings with increased velocity (0.4 mph) compared to his season average. The 23-year-old permitted just one hit on the slider -- a shift-aided triple to Cole Tucker to open the fourth inning.
Mattingly went on to say that with more time pitching in The Show, MLB Pipeline's No. 30 overall prospect will learn how to sequence a fastball up to go along with that slider. With four good pitches in his repertoire, strikeouts inevitably will come. The key is to be patient with how he develops.
“His stuff has been pretty consistent,” Mattingly said. “He seemed to be a little rough around the zone early, and he got some strikeouts with the ball down. When he's got that good changeup working -- the breaking ball working -- you do have to gear it up. He is 96-97 [mph], so you do have to get on that a little bit as a hitter. And the late movement down on the plate is a tough pitch to lay off of, and I think you've seen that today. I thought his stuff was like it always is. It's pretty good every time out.”