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Sandy Alcantara effective in return from biceps injury

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ATLANTA — Every postgame interview, Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara opens by thanking God for keeping him healthy. Although the result didn’t go in his favor Wednesday night in a 6-4 loss to the Braves at Truist Park, that sentiment was more true than ever.

Initially scheduled to pitch Saturday in Cleveland, the Marlins pushed back Alcantara to Wednesday due to mild right biceps tendinitis, marking the first time in his Major League career that he missed a start due to an arm-related injury. He landed on the injured list due to a right axillary (armpit) infection in 2018, caught COVID-19 in ’20 and went on the bereavement list in ’21.

“I always want to say thanks [to] God for everything — doesn’t matter good day, bad day — you get [to be] here every year,” Alcantara said. “Hopefully, I’m here now. I’m back. I feel so happy.”

After a 10-day hiatus, Alcantara was in vintage form through five innings, needing just 67 pitches and not permitting a baserunner to reach scoring position. He maxed out at 99.4 mph, and velocities for his four-seamer (97.9 mph), sinker (97.3 mph) and changeup (91.4 mph) were on par with his season averages.

“He’s throwing 99 [mph] wherever he wants it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s one of the best in the game for sure. It was good to see him elevate his pitch count and get in trouble that one inning, because it’s always kind of nice when you see him leaving.”

Alcantara lost his command in the sixth, starting with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s leadoff homer on a first-pitch middle-middle sinker. Two batters later, Austin Riley doubled on a middle-middle slider. Alcantara was then chased following back-to-back two-out walks. Huascar Brazoban took over and surrendered an RBI single to Vaughn Grissom, but García limited the damage by throwing out Eddie Rosario at home to preserve a 4-2 lead.

Más o menos (more or less),” Alcantara said of his outing. “I don’t like to get out of the game like that. Walking a couple people, that made me feel so bad. You said it. I just want to finish that inning. But I got frustrated when I walked back-to-back people. I don’t get mad about [manager Skip Schumaker taking me out] because I know I’ve got less than 90 pitches today, because I was sitting down for nine or 10 days. I understand that.”

Bally Sports Florida’s Rod Allen said on the broadcast that Alcantara’s issues were mechanical, according to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. Alcantara’s glove was dropping too fast, which resulted in a bad arm slot that kept his pitches up in the zone. With extra time to correct that, Alcantara located down in the zone at a season-high 53.4% clip.

So what led to Alcantara’s abrupt exit? Had he run out of gas? Did a 15-minute top of the sixth have an effect?

“I don’t know about running out of gas,” Schumaker said. “I never think Sandy’s running out of gas. He’s too conditioned for that. I felt like he was just digging in that inning, and with everything that happened, kind of a longer inning, he hasn’t pitched in a while. Felt like [Brazoban] was a good matchup for Grissom right there. Luckily, Avi threw [Rosario] out, but I think that was kind of what we were circling.”

Outside of his shutout on April 4 against the Twins, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner has posted a 7.17 ERA in his other four starts and has completed six innings in only one of them. 

Wednesday marked a step in the right direction, despite Miami losing its fourth straight. Alcantara feels healthy, crediting the training staff for “everything [feeling] good” in his quick return to the mound.

“I see 97 and 99 [mph] with good sink, and I think his depth on his changeup was really good today,” Schumaker said. “His slider was really good today. Again, I don’t worry about Sandy. I don’t think it’s anything. We were maybe slightly concerned about the bicep a few days ago. Now, that’s in the past, and he’s ready to go. And that felt like more vintage Sandy today, and so I’ll take that version any day.”

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