Miami Marlins

Sandy Alcantara goes toe to toe with Stephen Strasburg before sixth-inning HR beats Miami

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara throws to the Washington Nationals in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara throws to the Washington Nationals in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) AP

There was only one All-Star on the mound at Nationals Park on Wednesday. Just three days earlier, MLB announced the rosters for the 2019 All-Star Game and, with every team required to have at least one player in the game, Sandy Alcantara was surprisingly picked to represent the Miami Marlins.

Stephen Strasburg, who started for the Washington Nationals in their 3-1 win Wednesday, unsurprisingly was not selected, although he is one of the best starting pitchers in the Majors when he’s at his best. When Alcantara travels to Cleveland next week to play in his first All-Star Game, he’ll be surrounded with luminaries like Strasburg, an experience the Marlins think can only benefit the rookie’s rapid development.

“As kids, I think probably all of us that played watched the All-Star Game, and it’s because it’s more of a spectacle and the best of the best are there,” manager Don Mattingly said. “It can really help lift your confidence. Hopefully you take that into your season. You continue your improvement knowing that you’re not as good as your going to be. Hopefully he keeps that attitude.”

For more than five innings in his final start before he heads to Progressive Field, Alcantara went pitch for pitch with a three-time All-Star. Strasburg went 7 1/3 innings and for the first five of those innings Alcantara matched him. Only the penultimate batter Alcantara faced could crack him. Second baseman Brian Dozier belted a two-run home run on Alcantara’s 102nd pitch of the game for the right-handed pitcher’s only blemish in front of 25,483 in Washington. It was all the Nationals needed to beat the Marlins (32-52) for the fifth time in nine days.

In its last 14 games, Miami is 0-5 against Washington (44-41) and 7-2 against everyone else. Even another strong start from Alcantara (4-8) couldn’t prevent what has become inevitable.

“I think I was throwing a pretty good game. I just missed a spot with my pitch and they hit a homer,” Alcantara said. “I wanted to throw a slider away, but I missed in the middle and he hit it.”

Alcantara mostly avoided trouble throughout his entire start. He only gave up four hits and two of those came in the sixth inning. Before the sixth inning, Alcantara’s only other major bit of trouble popped up in the fourth inning when he issued a pair of walks and Miguel Rojas committed a rare error at shortstop with one out, but Alcantara quickly regrouped and collected two of his four strikeouts to escape a bases-loaded jam.

Aside from the home run, Alcantara’s only other serious issue were the four walks, the last of which immediately followed Dozier’s homer and forced Mattingly to pull his starting pitcher after 5 2/3 innings — only the second time since May he failed to go at least six innings.

Mattingly has repeatedly referred to Alcantara as a pitcher rapidly improving and said the last month has been the best of the 23-year-old’s career. The mistakes are still there, only now he’s limiting them to just a handful each game. On Wednesday, one of the mistakes was obvious — the breaking ball he hung for Dozier — and it cost him the game. When he isn’t making mistakes, Alcantara looks every bit like the All-Star he now is.

“His stuff is more consistent. Again, we see a few walks today, but I think in general we see a guy that’s getting better all the time,” Mattingly said. “Just the consistency of that outing, one outing to the next because he has stuff that you think he’s at some point going to dominate or have a chance to basically be what their guy was over there tonight.”

If he ever is able to emulate what Strasburg (10-4) did Wednesday, it will be a massive success for Alcantara’s development.

Strasburg, who entered Wednesday with the fourth most strikeouts in the National League, carved through the Marlins for 7 1/3 innings. The righty allowed only two hits and struck out 14 batters, including three on nine pitches in the fourth for the first immaculate inning of his career. He only walked two batters and left in the eighth with two runners on after striking out Brian Anderson, who pinch hit with a chance to give Miami a late lead.

Although Rojas gave the Marlins another bit of life with a single off Fernando Rodney to load the bases immediately after Strasburg exited, the relief pitcher got outfielder Harold Ramirez to ground into a double play to end the threat. Washington could then hand the ball off to Sean Doolittle, who held on for his 19th save of the season. Strasburg picked up his 20th career win against Miami, the most by any opposing pitcher.

“It was hard all day,” Mattingly said. “He seemed to be on corners. You didn’t see a lot of guys coming back feeling like they had pitches to hit.”

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Marlins stay cautious with Brian Anderson

Mattingly hoped to have Anderson back in the lineup Wednesday after he banged his right elbow on the wall in right-center field at Nationals Park on Tuesday, but the elbow didn’t respond the way the Marlins had hoped. Now Miami is left preaching caution with its most productive hitter.

The slugging third baseman made a rare start in right field to open the three-game series in Washington on Tuesday and leaped at the wall on a first-inning home run by Juan Soto, slamming his right elbow into the fence. He left the game at the end of the inning with a right elbow contusion and X-rays came back negative, leaving the Marlins hopeful Anderson wouldn’t miss any time despite some numbness. On Wednesday, Anderson still wasn’t able to throw, so Miami decided to keep him on the bench as a pinch-hitter. He struck out in his one at-bat in the top of the eighth.

“A lot of the same. Having trouble with the throwing part. He’ll be able to swing the bat,” Mattingly said. “We’ll try to keep him off the field.”

The Marlins listed Anderson as day-to-day after the injury and there’s no update to the timeline even after Anderson was forced to sit Wednesday. Miami is still optimistic he’ll just need a few days to get back to full strength.

“We hope so,” Mattingly said. “Obviously, I was hoping he’d be back in there today and his nerve would kind of calm down, but he’s still having the issues with the throwing, so we’ll do what we have to do. We’re hoping a couple of days. There’s nothing structurally going on or anything else, it was just more him banging that nerve made it really mad.”

This and that

The Marlins have not yet announced their probable starters for the weekend series against the Atlanta Braves, but Mattingly said he expects Caleb Smith to make his return from the injured list and start Saturday in Atlanta. The starting pitcher has missed nearly a month with a hip injury he sustained in early June. Pitcher Elieser Hernandez, who was one logical choice to be optioned or sent to the bullpen when Smith returned, is still slated to start Thursday.

Jorge Alfaro’s absence from the lineup Wednesday has nothing to do with the concussion which sent him to the seven-day injured list last month. Miami plays the Nationals at 11:05 a.m. on Thursday, so Mattingly needed to give the catcher off either Thursday or Wednesday.