Alcantara tightens his Cy Young grip

Marlins ace tosses 7 scoreless innings in series opener vs. Padres

August 16th, 2022

MIAMI -- Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara bolstered his case for the National League Cy Young Award by stymieing the Padres across seven innings Monday night in a 3-0 victory at loanDepot park.

Alcantara scattered four hits -- all singles -- walked two and struck out seven. He didn’t allow a runner to reach third, and the only time multiple men were on in the same inning, Alcantara struck out Josh Bell looking to end the threat in the third.

“What am I playing for?” catcher Jacob Stallings said. “To get Sandy a Cy Young. That's my thing. That would be kind of a thrill of a lifetime for me.”

Here’s a look at Alcantara’s latest gem by the numbers:

2.52: Alcantara’s ERA vs. clubs in playoff position
In 15 of his 24 starts, Alcantara has faced a team that currently holds a playoff spot. He has recorded a quality start in 10 of those 15. Manager Don Mattingly said the opponent no longer matters.

In the series opener, Alcantara got payback against the Padres, who chased him after a season-low 4 2/3 innings on May 6 in San Diego. That club didn’t feature recent additions Juan Soto and Bell, so the task arguably was more difficult on Monday.

“They are really good,” Alcantara said. “They've got Soto, they've got [Manny] Machado, they've got Bell right now. Their mentality was to be aggressive. And just thinking about it, try to get in their mentality, try to change their mentality a little bit, and went outside and compete with my best stuff.”

It won’t get any easier for Alcantara. The way the schedule lines up, he will next face the MLB-best Dodgers in back-to-back outings.

3.94: Pitches per plate appearance for Padres batters entering Monday -- seventh-highest in MLB

14.25: Pitches per inning for Alcantara entering Monday -- second-least in MLB
Something had to give, and early on it was Alcantara. San Diego made him work early, bumping his pitch count to 76 pitches through four innings. Mattingly and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. thought Alcantara might be able to get through six at that rate.

Alcantara had other plans, as he needed just 32 pitches over the next three frames. In the seventh, lefty Steven Okert began warming up since Alcantara had a “fairly short rope,” per Mattingly. The ace quieted that idea with a perfect 11-pitch frame.

“He's got pitches for the multiple times through the order,” Mattingly said. “He can go up, he can two-seam, but it seems like when he has those quick innings, he's just pounding the strike zone.

“So it's like, ‘Here it is, hit it.’ If not, you're behind in the count. And when he does that, then it forces them to swing the bat, and that's when he's getting those quick innings. The innings that get long are really the ones that they foul off, they foul off, they battle. And that's what good teams do. But when he catches that little groove, it forces you to swing the bat.”

24: Fouls -- tied for fifth-most in a start this season
Postgame in the Padres clubhouse, batters and manager Bob Melvin acknowledged the club was trying to get Alcantara out of the game early by grinding out at-bats. Alcantara called it frustrating because he wants seven- to 10-pitch innings.

“He's the best pitcher in the league right now, and he showed us tonight,” said Jurickson Profar, who went hitless in three at-bats vs. Alcantara. “I think he had a lot of pitches through five or six, but he managed to come back in the seventh and hats off to him. …

“A pitcher like that, they're going to bring their ‘A’ game. This year he's having a phenomenal year. That’s something that we tried to do. But obviously we didn't, we didn't execute, and hats off to him.”

99.5: Mph on a strikeout of Trent Grisham in the seventh -- tied for his 18th-fastest pitch in the seventh inning or later
Alcantara recently brought up the idea that his one-inning All-Star Game appearance might have thrown off his rhythm to begin the second half. In four starts entering Monday, he had a mortal 3.25 ERA.

That mark was skewed by his outing last Wednesday, when Alcantara cruised through seven innings before the Phillies improbably rattled off six singles and chased him in a three-run eighth.

It didn’t take long on Monday for Alcantara to believe he’s back. Six of his first nine outs came via the strikeout.

“Hell yeah, for sure,” Alcantara said. “You can see in the first inning [with] two strikeouts. I say, ‘Oh, I got this.’ And I got six, and I’ve got to wait till the seventh to get my seventh.”