Alcantara's 2019 pace gives look of '20 ace

Effort to get first-time All-Star to be more aggressive pays off

October 18th, 2019

MIAMI -- After all the urging, pushing and encouraging, the Marlins’ organizational message to attack the zone eventually sank in for right-hander .

It took some convincing to get the 24-year-old right-hander to buy in, but after he did, the results were telling. Alcantara finished up his first full big league season with a 3.88 ERA and came close to 200 innings pitched.

“He has turned the corner,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “The confidence has been building. For Sandy, our conversations have been about being aggressive. 'Let’s get in the strike zone. Your stuff is good. Let’s go attack.' You have to refine even that as you go along.”

What went right

It started with durability, with Alcantara able to make 32 starts. His 197 1/3 innings pitched set a Marlins’ rookie record, and was the 17th most in the Majors. A year ago, the hard-throwing right-hander opened the season at Triple-A New Orleans, and after being promoted in late June, he missed more than two months with a right axillary infection.

Staying healthy wasn’t a concern this year, and Alcantara made steady strides, improving as the season rolled along. In his final seven starts, he had a 3.02 ERA, with 43 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings.

“I always say, I work hard to get better every time,” Alcantara said. “That’s what I did. I learned from the small things. I focused on working my two-seam fastball for strikes. That’s what I have to do.”

What went wrong

July was the month Alcantara was selected to the All-Star Game -- but it turned into his worst of the season. In five starts, he went 0-3 with a 6.91 ERA, giving up 21 earned runs in 27 1/3 innings. He struck out 24 but walked 17.

The organization felt he was at times being passive on the mound, and not attacking hitters, which put him in unfavorable counts, an issue the team was watching going all the way back to the spring. According to Statcast, opponents had a .597 slugging percentage off all his fastballs in July.

“It’s aggressiveness,” Mattingly said. “It’s [about] using his fastball, and that just sets everything up. Nowadays, you don’t see many guys do what he does. He’s more of a power/sink pitcher and his pitches run. Now, that’s kind of out of the game. To see him make the ball move the way it does, at those velocities. The changeup works off of it, and the slider is getting better.”

Best moments

Entering 2019, no Marlins starter had logged a complete-game shutout since Edinson Volquez no-hit the D-backs on June 3, 2017, at Marlins Park. Alcantara snapped that dry spell on May 19, going the distance to shut out the Mets, 3-0, in Miami. He allowed just two hits, a walk and struck out eight.

Alcantara posted another complete-game shutout, on Sept. 8, in a 9-0 win over the Royals in Miami, the team's only two complete games of the season.

The shutouts bookended another top moment, when he pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the All-Star Game in Cleveland.

“I’ve come a long way,” Alcantara said. “I’ve had good days, bad days. But I never give up. I work hard to get better every time.”

2020 outlook

Opening Day 2020 starter is certainly within Alcantara’s reach, especially after he performed like an ace in the second half. Despite a couple of rough stretches early, the right-hander became the club’s most dependable and durable starter in 2019. At 24, there is plenty of upside for Alcantara, whose four-seam fastball (95.6 mph average) is in the 84th percentile of all pitchers.

“You want to see growth,” Mattingly said. “And to see the growth from when he came up last year to where he is now, that’s a pretty big jump. You didn’t really see it until you saw his consistent run.”