JUPITER, Fla. — How does arguably the best pitcher in baseball follow up a record-breaking, award-winning season?
By doing it all again, but better. And, perhaps, by winning the World Baseball Classic.
That’s what Miami ace and 2022 NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara is planning to do. The righty made his first start of the spring on Wednesday in the Marlins’ 8-4 loss to the Mets at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Three days prior, the club surprised Alcantara with his NL Cy Young plaque before its Grapefruit League home opener on Sunday.
“The great ones aren’t satisfied with even the best seasons, right?” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said. “I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of MVPs [during their] MVP seasons … and they followed it up with just about a good [an] MVP season right after — with the Alberts [Pujols] and the [Clayton] Kershaws.
“Even as good of a season as [Sandy] had, he still feels like he can do better. Which is, for me, it’s like, ‘No, go ahead. Go for it.’ Right? That’s it. That’s easy for a manager, so we can sit back and just watch your best player be your hardest worker.”
Alcantara earned that workhorse reputation the hard way. The ace started working at the beginning of November in order to be at 100% at this point in the spring. For Alcantara, 2 1/2 hours in the gym is nothing. Neither is 26 pitches (19 strikes) over two innings — even if it’s, as he put it Wednesday afternoon, “hot.”
“I don’t have to worry about my preparation because I’ve been following my routine since I got the opportunity [to be on the Dominican team] since Nov. 1,” Alcantara said. “I’m ready. And I can’t wait to get out there.”
Alcantara utilized all four of his pitches well, allowing just two hits over his two innings. Both the righty and his skipper liked how his changeup worked — a pitch Alcantara has put a lot of work into this offseason. And, Alcantara did what he does best: throw first-pitch strikes. He did so against four of the six batters he faced who saw more than one pitch. (Two batters hit into outs on the first pitch they saw.)
“He wants to get better,” Schumaker said. “When you have that kind of growth mindset — I’ve been around guys like that before, that they’re just never satisfied. No matter what. And even though he has one Cy Young, he still wants to get better. And he’s not satisfied.”
On Monday, Alcantara will start in Lake Buena Vista vs. the Rays before he, along with Jean Segura and Johnny Cueto, reports to the Dominican team for the World Baseball Classic. Alcantara is set to start the Dominican Republic’s first game on March 11 vs. Team Venezuela.
“I can’t wait,” Alcantara said. “Can’t wait to be out there on the 11th, first game against Venezuela. … It’s going to be fun. … They want to represent their country. I want to represent my country and I want to do my best to win the game.”
Schumaker will see Alcantara in game action once more this spring, when the ace gets the ball for two to three innings against Tampa Bay on Monday. Prior to Grapefruit League play, the last time Schumaker saw Alcantara pitch was at the end of June in St. Louis. Schumaker was coaching for the Cardinals at the time, and he watched as Alcantara convinced then-Miami manager Don Mattingly to keep the ace in the game. Alcantara finished that game with three strikeouts over nine innings, his second of six complete games in 2022.
“It’s great to be on this side of things with Sandy,” Schumaker said. “I was going [to] go tell him about his next start and travel plans today, and I was told, ‘Don’t go near him.’ So yeah, that’s kind of what I’m used to with those ace guys, not [wanting you] to touch or talk [to them] during their start days. … I think everybody’s excited to watch one of the best pitchers in the game pitch.”