Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. made his way to the mound in the second inning Monday to talk to the Miami Marlins’ ace who was looking very little like the pitcher who had been given that title. Sandy Alcantara was already at 35 pitches, already had to sneak out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam an inning earlier and already had two more runners on base his second time up with just one out.
“He came in to try to give me a breather,” Alcantara said afterward. “After that, you’re just trying to be really focused on the strike zone.”
Alcantara retired the next 20 batters he faced and took advantage of pitching with a lead as the Marlins beat the Washington Nationals 8-2 at loanDepot park to begin a three-game series. Miami improves to 16-19, while the Nationals fall to 12-25.
“That means a lot,” Alcantara said. “I’ve never done that. I feel so happy with that. I hope God gives me the opportunity to keep doing that.”
The 26-year-old right-handed pitcher’s final line: Eight innings pitches, one run allowed on three hits and a walk with five strikeouts. Alcantara threw 100 pitches, 71 of which went for strikes.
It marked the second time this season Alcantara has pitched eight innings, matching his season high on April 20 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Alcantara’s 50 2/3 innings pitched through eight starts lead all MLB pitchers.
But early on, it didn’t look like Alcantara was going to get that far or have that much success on Monday.
He gave up hits to three of the first four batters he faced — singles to Cesar Hernandez, Josh Bell and Yadiel Hernandez with a Juan Soto groundout mixed in — to give the Nationals an early 1-0 lead. He then hit Kiebert Ruiz with a pitch to load the bases with one out before getting out of the jam when Brian Anderson fielded Maikel Franco’s weakly hit ground ball and threw home for a force out and then Lane Thomas was called out on strikes to cap a 23-pitch first inning.
“They were attacking him,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “If they got on base, they looked like they wanted to run, but he was able to get out of that one.”
In the second, Alcantara got Dee Strange-Gordon to hit into a quick groundout before hitting Victor Robles with a pitch and walking Hernandez and prompting Stottlemyre to make his mound meeting.
Alcantara wouldn’t let another batter reach base.
Soto and Bell both grounded out to end the second. His pitch count was already at 43 pitches. At that point, did Alcantara think he would be able to pitch as deep into the game as he did?
“Yeah,” Alcantara said.
Quick innings the rest of the way helped Alcantara go from salvaging his start to putting up one of his best outings of the year.
In the third inning, he needed nine pitches to record two strikeouts and a flyout.
In the fourth, it was three groundouts on five pitches.
In the fifth, it was two groundouts and a flyout on 14 pitches.
In the sixth, it was three groundouts on 10 pitches.
In the seventh, he got a groundout, a flyout and a strikeout on 12 pitches.
And in the eighth inning, Alcantara needed just seven pitches for a swinging strikeout, a flyout and a groundout on seven pitches.
“When he’s rolling like that,” Mattingly said, “it’s fun to watch. He’s in and out of innings quick, throwing strikes. Everything’s working.”
The offense gave Alcantara all the run support he needed with a four-run second inning, during which six consecutive Marlins hitters safely reached base.
Avisail Garcia began the rally when he got hold of an Aaron Sanchez 94 mph sinker near the heart of the zone and blasted the ball to center field for a 402-foot, game-tying solo home run. Garcia finished with two hits on Monday. He has hits in eight of his last nine games and is batting .333 (12 for 36) with two home runs, five RBI and five runs scored in that stretch.
“Just don’t try and do too much,” Garcia said of his approach. “I’ve been working so hard to come back and try to help the team win. It’s a long season. Just got to keep working and stay positive.”
Brian Anderson followed with a walk. Bryan De La Cruz, starting in center field for Jesus Sanchez, then hit a double to put runners on second and third. Erik Gonzalez, starting at shortstop for Miguel Rojas, drove both in with a single up the middle to give Miami its first lead of the game at 3-1. Gonzalez then moved to third on a Jacob Stallings double and scored on a Jazz Chisholm Jr. single.
Miami then tacked on four more runs in the seventh.
The Marlins had the bases loaded after three consecutive singles from Stallings, Chisholm and Jesus Aguilar. All three scored on a hard-hit Jorge Soler groundball that bounced past Dee Strange-Gordon and into left field that drove in Stallings and Chisholm before a pair of defensive errors — first by Nationals left fielder Thomas on a throw home and then by relief pitcher Victor Arano on a throw to second base — allowed Aguilar to score and Soler to get to third bases. Garcia then drove in Soler with an RBI single.
Anthony Bass gave up a run on two hits and an error in the ninth.