Sandy Alcantara impresses in first start back with Marlins after World Baseball Classic

Jim Rassol/Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Manager Skip Schumaker had some concerns, however minor, about how Sandy Alcantara might perform on Saturday. The Miami Marlins’ ace and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner was making his first spring training start since pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic against Venezuela — a game that had a lively atmosphere from the announced crowd of 35,890.

“How do you find that same intensity in a game like this, a spring training game with a couple thousand people?” Schumaker said. “Not that you worry about it, but you try to figure out how you replicate that intensity.”

It turns out Schumaker really did have little to worry about.

Alcantara was the sharpest he has been all spring training. He threw 5 2/3 shutout innings with five strikeouts in the Marlins’ 7-0 Grapefruit League win over the Nationals at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Alcantara allowed just two hits and two walks and threw 69 pitches, with 45 landing for strikes.

“Nothing changed,” Alcantara said. “It’s the same ball, the same game. You’ve just got to go outside and compete. It doesn’t matter with the crowd or how many fans. You have to feel good, go outside and do your best.”

Alcantara did just that. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and didn’t allow a runner to reach scoring position until the fifth when Victor Robles walked and Michael Chavez hit a single to left in consecutive plate appearances to lead off the inning.

Alcantara’s response? He struck out Jeter Downs on three pitches, picked off Robles at second base and got Riley Adams to line out to Yuli Gurriel at first base.

The pickoff is arguably the most notable of the sequence. Controlling the running game and limiting damage when runners are on base is one of the areas of Alcantara’s game that is still developing. Alcantara has recorded just three pickoffs in his MLB career. Opponents have stolen 53 bases against him in 68 tries — a 77.9-percent success rate.

“It’s important,” Alcantara said, “especially when you have men on base like Victor Robles — fast guy.”

Including his outing at the World Baseball Classic, Alcantara has pitched 14 innings over four games.

Alcantara is in line to make one more spring training start before the regular season begins.

His goal the rest of the way is the same as it always is during spring training.

“Be healthy,” Alcantara said. “Opening Day is [less than] two weeks away. Gotta be smart.”

Berti Ball

In a span of three innings, Marlins utility player Jon Berti showed off the variety of ways he can impact a game.

Two pitches into the game, he sent an elevated Trevor Williams fastball to right-center field for a solo home run.

In the second inning, Berti hit an RBI single to left and made it to second when he saw the throw back into the infield went awry.

And in the third, he made a nice grab deep in the infield at third base on an Alex Call ground ball and made the throw in time to first base to end the inning.

“That’s who Jon is,” Schumaker said. “He can affect the game offensively, defensively and on the bases. He showcased that.”

Through 11 games this spring, Berti has seven hits, five RBI, five runs scored and a team-high seven walks. He has played second base, shortstop, third base and in the outfield.

“I feel really good,” said Berti, who led MLB last season with 41 stolen bases. “I think it’s finally starting to turn a corner here and just at the right time.”

Roster moves

The Marlins on Saturday reassigned pitchers Devin Smeltzer and Chi Chi Gonzalez to minor-league camp.

Both were non-roster invites to spring training and, assuming they stay in the organization, will provide the Marlins with experienced pitching depth.

Smeltzer, 27, has made 34 MLB appearances (19 starts) over four seasons with the Minnesota Twins. He has a career 3.99 ERA with 96 strikeouts against 37 walks over 70 1/3 innings.

Gonzalez, 31, has made 68 MLB appearances (52 starts) with the Texas Rangers (2015-16), Colorado Rockies (2019-2021), Minnesota Twins (2022), Milwaukee Brewers (2022) and New York Yankees (2022).

“We need depth, and those guys just need to go down and start,” Schumaker said. “We’re at the point of camp that they have to build up, and there’s limited amount of starts left, so they can’t just come out of the ‘pen and throw one inning anymore. We need them to build up in case anything happens.”

Injury updates

Catcher Nick Fortes will be given a couple days of rest after leaving Friday’s game with mild tendinitis in his right knee.

Infielder Jordan Groshans (right shoulder) is taking ground balls and hitting in the cages. Schumaker said he is “progressing faster than we thought, which is good.”

Peyton Burdick is still recovering from a right big toe sprain.