For a Miami Marlins team that is cool and young and fun, but also pretty mediocre, Sandy Alcantara has been the one shining beacon of excellence this season. With the 26-year-old’s deep and dizzying arsenal of both speed and movement pitches, the Marlins can rest easy knowing that they will have a safeguard against the encroaching doldrums of under-.500 baseball every five outings.
The team’s ace was back at it again on Wednesday, doing what he has been doing all season long: eating up innings, keeping everything calm to allow his hitters a chance, and picking up a win. Alcantara also served as his biggest advocate while nursing a 4-3 lead against the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning. There’s no better image to represent his season than Alcantara waving off manager Don Mattingly in order to finish out the complete game.
With runners on first and second and only one out in the bottom of the ninth, Mattingly came out to check on Alcantara’s mindset and arm status. Though Alcantara covered his mouth with his glove, it’s pretty clear that the 26-year-old was fervently arguing to stay in, believing that his filthy sinker could notch a game-ending double play. He said as much after the game: “I don’t have to worry when I have men on base. I know I can throw for a strike and get a double play.”
At the time of Mattingly’s mound visit, his star player had already thrown 115 pitches, well beyond a reasonable amount for a modern young pitcher, but it didn’t matter. Mattingly gave him one more hitter to get out of his own jam, and that’s exactly what Alcantara did, inducing the ground ball to get the win.
In this era of strategic pitch count restrictions, Alcantara stands alone. He is a throwback to a time in which starting pitchers chewed up innings like sunflower seeds. At age 23, in 2019, he threw 197.1 for the Marlins. After the COVID-shortened year he came back and topped that mark with 205.2. And as the 2022 calendar prepares to flip over into July, Alcantara is leading the major leagues in innings pitched by a hilarious margin: He has thrown 115.1 innings so far, and the gap between him and Robbie Ray’s second-place tally of 97.2 is as big as the gap between Ray and 44th-placed Paul Blackburn.
To put his first 16 starts of the season into recent historical context, his 115.1 innings thrown is the highest count in that many appearances since Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw both did it in 2016. Over his last ten starts, Alcantara has pitched 79.2 innings, also the highest number in that amount of outings since Kershaw in 2016. Six years is a long time in baseball strategy, and the game has shifted away from the types of pitchers that can anchor an entire game for a team. Well, almost shifted away.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alcantara now sits alone at the top of the complete games leaderboard for the season; he has two, and everyone else has either one or none. These aren’t just workmanlike innings, either. Alcantara is a clear frontrunner for the NL Cy Young. He’s currently leading all pitchers in bWAR, ranks 7th in WHIP, and sits in first for ERA+ at 212.
After Wednesday’s game, Mattingly revealed what happened in that fateful mound visit: “He said he had it and he did. I wasn’t going to promise him two hitters but I gave him that one.” Even putting aside the anxious protections rebuilding clubs put on their most valuable arms, if there was a logical point in a game to remove your starter, it’s after he lets two runners get on base while clinging to a narrow lead. That’s the type of situation that closers are made for, after all.
When Alcantara is on the mound, though, conventional wisdom can take a seat on the bench. If he says he’s got it, he’s got it, as the Cardinals found out on Wednesday. A pitch count of 115 may seem like a lot, but Alcantara only needed two more to seal off the game.