Tuesday, November 29 2022

Sandy Alcantara’s father doesn’t work anymore. At 59, Confesor Alcantara enjoys what his son calls a better life, in a big house, where he “doesn’t have to do anything,” a just reward after a life spent supporting 11 children through back-breaking farm work in the Dominican Republic.

Confesor’s middle child is seeing to that.

Alcantara is just 26 years old yet takes on the burdens of a man much older. He is steadfast in his determination to support his family, an endeavor simplified by his growth into one of the best pitchers in baseball.

He’s just as quietly determined to wield his influence in that realm, where, as the last Miami Marlin remaining from one of three trades that helped tear down the franchise, Alcantara is committed to see the club’s rebuild through and provide an example for the younger members of their rotation.

For Alcantara, both roles only gain urgency.

In July, his mother, Francisca Montero, passed away after battling lung cancer, more than four decades after her marriage to Confesor. In 2018, the same year Alcantara made his major league debut, his younger brother, Alexander, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Santo Domingo.

Sandy Alcantara was an All-Star as a rookie in 2019.Sandy Alcantara was an All-Star as a rookie in 2019.

Sandy Alcantara was an All-Star as a rookie in 2019.

Alcantara’s own son, Yorlin Sadiel, is 7 now, the child’s name a combination of his own and his wife Yorleni, who he’s dated since they were 13. Their future feels significantly more secure after the Marlins signed Alcantara to a five-year, $56 million extension that will keep him in Miami through at least 2026.

Despite the long-term stability, Alcantara’s growth into an All-Star has been accompanied by lessons in life’s fragility.

“I lose my mom, and I lose my little brother, and I don’t want to lose any more of my family. I gotta keep being there for them,” says Alcantara on a recent morning between starts. “When you lose somebody in your family, your life changes, especially when you lose your mom. My mom told me, be strong and be happy. I will never forget my mom because she was the one who brought me into this world.

“I feel so bad losing my mom. At the same time, I gotta be strong. Because I am here, to take care of my family.”

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Becoming an ace

It’s a responsibility Alcantara was thrust into at 11, when his family, recognizing his baseball acumen, sent him from their more bucolic province of Azua to live with his older sister, Aridia, in Santo Domingo. From there, his story mirrors that of many gifted Dominican players: Alcantara joined forces with area talent scout, or buscon, Felix Liriano, who trained and fed him at his academy. Liriano alerted a Cardinals scout, Ronny Jimenez, to Alcantara and he was eventually signed for a $125,000 bonus in 2013.

His career was jolted four years later when the Cardinals made him the centerpiece of a five-player deal that sent outfielder Marcell Ozuna from Miami to St. Louis. It came just three days after slugger Giancarlo Stanton was sent to the New York Yankees, and less than two months before Christian Yelich was shipped to Milwaukee.

An All-Star outfield, gone, in exchange for 10 prospects, and dreams of multiple jackpots in the group. Now, only Alcantara remains in Miami’s plans.

“I’m the last one left from my Marcell Ozuna trade,” he laments.

Yet if just one prospect was to become a building block, the baseball gods chose the right guy.

In an era when durable, reliable starting pitchers are scarce, Alcantara is a true horse: He was one of just four pitchers to top 200 innings pitched in 2021, including six outings where he completed at least eight innings and gave up just one run. Alcantara posted a 3.19 ERA, including a 2.21 mark over his final 10 starts, and carried the momentum into this season.

Miami Marlins' Sandy Alcantara pitches to Seattle Mariners' Adam Frazier during the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 1, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) ORG XMIT: OTKMiami Marlins' Sandy Alcantara pitches to Seattle Mariners' Adam Frazier during the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 1, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) ORG XMIT: OTK

Miami Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara pitches to Seattle Mariners’ Adam Frazier during the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 1, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) ORG XMIT: OTK

He’s already blanked the Cardinals over eight innings and ran a shutout streak to 17 ⅓ innings, while posting a 2.90 ERA. Already gifted with a mid-90s fastball, he has a legitimate five-pitch repertoire that has seen significant growth in his changeup as well as utilizing a four-seam fastball to blow away hitters up in the strike zone.

“When I faced him in the past, it was mostly sinker-slider to righties, and everything’s going down,” says catcher Kevin Stallings, who was acquired from Pittsburgh in the offseason. “Now that he’s throwing the four-seamer at the top of the zone, it makes it really hard to hit. He’s been doing that a lot more to lefties.

“He hasn’t been as good as he is now. He’s always been talented, but he’s put the pieces together. It’s a good example for anyone.”

Alcantara’s cumulative effect on the Marlins can’t be fully quantified, but it is evident. He wore the hard knocks of fronting a staff that would lose 105 games in 2019. Alcantara made the All-Star team and tossed a major league-best two shutouts, but also led the majors with 14 losses.

The Marlins enjoyed a brief uprising in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before losing 95 more games last year. Meanwhile, a staff slowly took shape behind Alcantara and looks to coalesce this season: Right-hander Pablo Lopez was the NL’s pitcher of the month after posting a major league-best 0.39 ERA in April. Young lefty Trevor Rogers was the ’21 Rookie of the Year runner-up.

Tantalizingly, prospect Max Meyer has a 1.71 ERA through five starts at Class AAA Jacksonville and should soon galvanize a club off to a 12-9 start.

Yet the group’s identity was forged through Alcantara.

“Without Sandy,” says shortstop Miguel Rojas, the club’s elder statesman, “there’s probably not a Pablo that looks like that. Sandy wanted to be the guy, wanted to take that role and responsibility of being the reliable guy in the rotation, every single day for the whole year.

“It’s not just because he has the numbers. I think it’s the fire in him, to want to be that guy, that he gets to the point he is right now, where he’s the rock solid of this rotation. A lot of the four guys feed off his energy, his routines. Every time he takes the ball, no matter how he feels, he’s going to give us an opportunity to win. Which shows maturity and how he’s so much different from three years ago.”

‘I love this team so much’

Rojas can relate to Alcantara’s pining for family. He, too, recently lost his mother and a grandparent, all while forging a career far from his native Venezuela.

“It’s not an easy thing to overcome,” says Rojas. “You’re always going to have them on your mind, and you’re always going to have that as a motivation, to make them proud and continue to do what you need to continue to provide for your family.”

For Alcantara, the pressure to provide is alleviated by a significant self-belief. It helps to stand 6-5 and work downhill toward hitters expecting any number of offerings to emerge from his hands.

“I believe so much in my talent,” says Alcantara, who speaks excellent English but whose confidence emerges from a laid-back delivery. “My talent is too good, so I say thank you, God for giving me the talent.

“I just work on getting more nasty.”

Alcantara says the Marlins have faced a “long road,” yet a payoff may be nearing, befitting for a player taking care of one family back home and another that increasingly relies on him to carry them.

“They believe in me,” Alcantara says of the Marlins. “They gave me that role to be a leader, as a young guy, too. I feel good about it and I gotta keep doing it.

“I love this team so much.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara already an MLB ace and veteran at 26

Source: Yahoo Sports

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