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3 things we learned from Sandy Alcántara’s return

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The up-and-coming rookie dominated the Phillies on Wednesday and will get every opportunity to stick in the Marlins major league rotation.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If there wasn’t much hype after Sandy Alcántara debuted for the Miami Marlins with a five-inning start back in June, it’s definitely mounting now. The centerpiece of the Marcell Ozuna trade returned to the majors on Wednesday, his progress stalled by an armpit infection and Triple-A assignment.

He made it worth the wait:

Alcántara was even better than in his first performance, giving us reasons to believe that there’s more success in his future as a Marlins starter.

Control

Although his debut was solid, it wasn’t anywhere near perfect. Despite only allowing 3 hits, he allowed 5 walks, leading to a 1.60 WHIP. That’s usually not a sustainable model of good pitching. On top of that, only 51 percent (50-98) of his pitches were strikes.

This time, however, he improved to 66 percent (64-97). One of his biggest improvements were his secondary pitches. His slider strike percentage went from 44 percent (8-18) to 71 percent (12-17). Meanwhile, his changeup went from 60 percent (9-15) to 89 percent (8-9).

Alcántara allowed only 2 walks in his last 18 23 IP with Triple-A New Orleans after struggling in that department at various points this season. So maybe this shouldn’t have come as a total surprise.

To reach his ceiling as a top-of-the-rotation arm, the tall right-hander was going to need to improve his efficiency. At least for one glorious night, he addressed that issue.

Stamina

It’s no secret that the Marlins have been lacking a workhorse pitcher. Their bullpen is one of the most overworked ‘pens in baseball, and it has shown at the end of the season for the last few years. Marlins’ starters are only averaging 5 23 IP per game.

Alcántara’s effort was even more impressive when you consider that he reached seven innings in only one start against minor league competition in July and August combined.

That being said, there are no concerns about his conditioning. He topped 100 pitches in six previous starts in 2018, and certainly could’ve done it against the Phillies if he had a larger lead to work with.

Perhaps Miami relievers like Kyle Barraclough and Drew Steckenrider wouldn’t have slumped in the second half with more Alcántara types in the rotation to protect them.

Velocity

Usually, when a player works himself back into rhythm after a DL stint, they need time to regain their usual velocity.

But not Sandy. Across the board, his stuff surpassed what he showed in his debut.

Average Velocity Between Start No. 1 and No. 2

Type Velo (6/29) Velo (9/5)
Type Velo (6/29) Velo (9/5)
Fastball 94.8 97.0
Sinker/2SFB 94.0 96.8
Changeup 89.1 89.7
Slider 85.1 86.5
Curveball 80.1 82.7
BrooksBaseball.net

His fastball was sitting at 94.8 mph in Game 1 (peaked at 97.1). Alcántara bumped it all the way up to an average of 97.0 mph, peaking at 98.1.

It wasn’t just his four-seamer, either. Alcántara’s sinker went from 94.0 mph to 96.8 mph, peaking at 99.3. That was a refreshing return to spring training form, when he looked like a strong candidate to crack the Opening Day roster.

With the Marlins going to a six-man rotation for the rest of the season, we may only see Alcántara on the mound three more times. With the way he pitched towards the end of his rehab assignment and thus far in a small major league sample, he is no longer fighting for a steady spot—that’s already locked up.

The big question in the Marlins clubhouse and front office: Is this our next ace?

Follow Alcántara closely in his upcoming start against the Mets in New York next Wednesday, September 12.