Alcantara leads young staff that should be Marlins’ strength

MIAMI (AP) — At 25, Sandy Alcantara says he’s old enough to be the Miami Marlins’ ace.

The Marlins agree.

Alcantara has pitched less than 300 innings and has a career record of 11-19, but Miami is counting on him to lead a parade of talented young starting pitchers who are considered the team’s strength.

“That’s what the Marlins are looking for from me, and that’s what I want,” said the Dominican right-hander, who pitched two scoreless innings against the Mets in his first spring training start Monday. “There are a lot of young guys behind me. I have to show them they can be like me.

“It doesn’t matter how young I am. I have experience. I’ve been in the big leagues for four years now.”

On Miami’s staff, that’s a lot. The other right-handers expected to help make up the rotation include Pablo López, Elieser Hernández and Sixto Sánchez. Four pitchers are contending for the last spot — left-hander Trevor Rogers and Daniel Castano, and right-handers Nick Neidert and Braxton Garrett.

Among the eight pitchers, Castano is the oldest at 26, and their combined career record is 36-54.

Even so, the Marlins believe starting pitching can lead them back to the playoffs after they made a surprising run last year to their first postseason berth since 2003.

“We hang our hat on pitching,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We feel like that is going to be our thing. Every time we put a starter out there, you feel like you’ve got a guy who can keep you in the game.”

Relying on young pitching is nothing new for the Marlins, due to their perennially small payrolls. But the depth of 25-and-under talent might be the franchise’s best since 2002, when the rotation included Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, A.J. Burnett and Ryan Dempster.

A year later, the Marlins won the World Series.

“We have arms that are able to shut any lineup down,” López said. “Electric arms. It’s a very exciting rotation.”

The Marlins have stockpiled the young pitchers as a foundation for CEO Derek Jeter’s rebuilding project, now entering Season 4. One of Jeter’s first moves was to acquire Alcantara in the 2017 trade that sent outfielder Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals.

The 6-foot-5 Alcantara made his first major league start the following year. In 2019 he became an All-Star and pitched two shutouts, most in the majors.

Alcantara was sidelined early last season by the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak, but returned and finish with a 3.00 ERA in seven starts, and then beat the Cubs in his playoff debut.

“You see the wannabe, which is huge,” Mattingly said. “His stuff can be as good as anybody’s, and he wants to be great.”

Even so, the starter who created the most buzz last year was Sánchez, acquired in the trade two years ago that sent catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Philadelphia Phillies. The highly touted 22-year-old performed so well he was able to trade in uniform number 73 for 45, the number worn by his hero and fellow Dominican, Pedro Martínez.

“It means a lot,” Sánchez said in Spanish. “I used to watch Pedro pitch. I want to accomplish many things he did.”

He’s off to a good start. Called up in August, Sánchez went 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA in seven starts, and he pitched five shutout innings against the Cubs in the playoffs.

“Sixto came as advertised,” Mattingly said. “There really wasn’t anything not to like.”

Perhaps Miami’s most promising pitching prospect is another 22-year-old, right-hander Edward Cabrera. He was expected to contend for a rotation spot but is sidelined indefinitely with an inflamed nerve in his right biceps.

That still leaves plenty of pitching depth in camp.

“We have a lot of young guys,” Alcantara said. “And when they get opportunity, they’re going to be good.”

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