Alcantara takes no-no into 7th, silences Nats

Marlins ace struck by comebacker in knee, delivers eight innings of one-hit ball

September 14th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- "No chance."

That was 's response after manager Don Mattingly told his ace he was done on Monday night at Nationals Park. Juan Soto’s 111.5 mph comebacker had just struck the right-hander on the left knee in the fourth, eliciting understandable concern.

Instead, Alcantara remained in the game and continued his dominance on the mound, flirting with a no-hitter into the seventh inning of a 3-0 win over the Nationals.

Alcantara allowed a career-low one hit and struck out seven batters with no walks. The last Miami starter to go at least eight frames while surrendering fewer than two hits was Edinson Vólquez on July 3, 2017, against the D-backs -- the franchise’s most recent of six no-nos.

“I just say, ‘Stay in the game,’” Alcantara said. “It doesn't matter what happens. I'm the guy who's going to die on the mound, and guys see it. I stayed in the game, and I was competing.”

The 26-year-old tried to loosen his leg before exiting the field as teammates looked on. He appeared to cautiously go down the dugout stairs, then walked the length of the dugout as Mattingly talked to him. Alcantara headed into the tunnel afterwards before returning to the bench. No one began throwing in the bullpen during this sequence.

When it was time for Alcantara to take the mound for the bottom of the fifth, Mattingly, head athletic trainer Gene Basham and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. watched as he threw warmup pitches. Shortstop and unofficial captain Miguel Rojas spoke with Alcantara before the inning began.

The Marlins touched base with Alcantara after each frame. Stottlemyre kept a close eye on whether he changed his arm angle to compensate for any discomfort. He didn’t. All four of his pitches showed increased velocity compared to his season averages.

It didn’t slow down Alcantara, who was perfect through five innings on 57 pitches. He lost that bid when Jazz Chisholm Jr. committed his MLB-leading 13th error at second base on a line-drive one-hopper by Keibert Ruiz to open the sixth.

Josh Bell sent Alcantara’s 82nd pitch -- a 91.9 mph slider down in the zone -- off the right-field wall with two outs in the seventh to break up the no-hitter. Jesús Sánchez played the carom perfectly and fired to second, holding Bell to a single. Alcantara kept it a 1-0 ballgame in favor of Miami by striking out Yadiel Hernandez.

“Obviously after the fourth or fifth inning, everyone knows,” said Bell, who had been primarily seeing two-seamers and changeups from Alcantara. “It’s just trying to capitalize on mistakes. I felt like he did a good job that game of keeping people off the barrel, aside from Soto up to that point. I was just happy to get the job done there.”

At 96 pitches through eight innings, Mattingly elected to pinch-hit for Alcantara in the ninth with the Marlins up, 3-0. Mattingly had told Alcantara ahead of time that if his spot in the order came up, he would be done.

“Honestly, I was glad to get to Sandy and get him out of that game,” Mattingly said. “I was not going to feel good until he was out of the game knowing he was healthy. That's a difficult spot when you're in our situation. To have this kid in your hands in a sense, you worry about his family and everything else that's going to happen in his future, which is bright.”

The series opener was quite the encore. Last Wednesday, Alcantara struck out a career-high 14 batters across nine innings on 114 pitches but didn’t record the complete game. The Marlins did walk off for a 2-1 victory over the Mets in the 10th.

Monday marked Alcantara’s MLB-high-tying seventh start of at least eight frames this season. Since surrendering a career-high 10 runs at Coors Field on Aug. 6, Alcantara has a 1.55 ERA in seven starts.

“His stuff is electric,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “He’s always had electric stuff. A lot of times, he’ll fall behind, get hit. Now, he’s working ahead. But he’s throwing the ball, hitting his spots. That’s the big thing. He’s elevating his fastballs, keeps his sliders down and away, throwing everything for strikes. So that makes it tough, it really does. Today, he didn’t get behind very many hitters. When he did, he came right back and threw a ball, a pretty good pitch on the outside corner, inside corner, and he was tough.”