MIAMI — As soon as Skip Schumaker took over as Marlins manager in October, his first conversation with Sandy Alcantara revolved around the ace’s affinity for ending games. It was a fun and often-debated trade with former skipper Don Mattingly in 2022.
Schumaker’s message then was simple: We’re going to be smart about it.
With Alcantara going eight innings on 93 pitches against the Twins on Tuesday night at loanDepot park, it became more and more likely that Schumaker had a tough decision to make.
“I start looking at the pitches, and I’m like, ‘Okay, here we go. He’s going to do it to me,'” said Schumaker, who was the Cardinals’ bench coach when Alcantara threw a complete game against St. Louis. Louis on June 29, 2022. “The second start of the season, you don’t want to just crush the guy. And on the other hand, I know what it means for pitchers to go to the ninth and finish the thing and go to pole to pole.
Alcantara made Schumaker look good by throwing his fourth career shutout in a 1-0 win on Tuesday night. Avisaíl García’s second-inning homer against Kenta Maeda proved to be the difference in a game that clocked in at a brisk one hour and 57 minutes.
The 27-year-old Alcantara did it with 100 pitches, picking up where he left off in his 2022 National League Cy Young Award-winning campaign, when he recorded six complete games in MLB — the most other clubs.
Counting only non-season-shortened games and a regular season that didn’t start in July, the last pitchers to have a complete game in the team’s first six games of the season were José Berríos (nine innings in 2018 with Minnesota ) and Corey Kluber (eight frames in ’18 with Cleveland).
“The guy’s a dog,” said Twins catcher Christian Vázquez, who went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. “He’s a dog. Tough. Hard pitcher. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Alcantara, who allowed just four baserunners, retired the first 11 batters he faced before Trevor Larnach’s infield hit in the fourth. He then worked around a leadoff walk in the seventh, stranding the runner at second.
In the ninth, Alcantara gave up a one-out single to Carlos Correa before scoring a game-ending 6-3 double play on a sinker to Larnach. Schumaker prepared southpaw AJ Puk in the bullpen for the left-handed-hitting Lanarch, but he decided Alcantara was the club’s best chance to win the game.
“I thought he was pretty good,” said Jacob Stallings, who caught every pitch Alcantara threw in 2022. “He really had a sinker tonight. I honestly didn’t think he had the best changeup, just nothing he in the zone with a change maybe like we’re used to, but [the] nice slider, [and the] the two-seam is really beautiful.
“We abandoned the whole pregame meeting a little early just because of the beauty of his two-seam. We plan to attack more of the zone today. We did it a few times, but [he threw] there are a lot of sinkers, so it’s just kind of what makes him special.”
Tuesday marked the best possible result for Alcantara coming off an atypical start on Opening Day, when he issued four walks and allowed three runs in 5 2/3 frames in a 5- 3 losses to the Mets. That kind of outing prompted him more than usual to throw first-pitch strikes and attack hitters.
After throwing an MLB-low 14.20 pitches per inning in 2022, Alcantara has also been economical. In three of his nine innings, he needed fewer than 10 pitches. He never threw more than 18 in a frame.
García got the go-ahead shot in the ninth in June at St. Louis to give way to Alcantara’s complete game. García predicted the right-hander would throw nine innings in his return to the mound.
“It feels good,” said García, who reached 10 years of Major League service time on Monday. “Anytime you help the team win, I think you feel good about it. Sandy pitched an incredible game, as always. I’m happy that I hit a homer for Sandy for win the game.”
With the Marlins on a three-game skid, they need Alcantara to serve as a stopper, just as he did in 2022. Last season, he posted a 2.31 ERA, and the club went 15-6 in Alcantara’s 21 starts following the loss .
“When I came to the locker room today [after the game], I asked everybody how they feel, and everybody said, ‘Good,’ and I said, ‘Right, because we won today, so that’s what I want to see every time,’” Alcantara said. “And [I] just said, ‘Avi, thanks for the bump today.’ Hopefully he can continue to hit a lot of homers — not just him, everyone. If we wake up, we will win many games.”