Sandy Alcantara throws fourth career complete game as Marlins avoid sweep against Braves

Marta Lavandier/AP
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By the time the second inning ended Sunday and Sandy Alcantara had retired all six Atlanta Braves hitters he had faced on just 20 pitches, Jacob Stallings had an inkling about how the rest of the game would unfold.

“This could be a good day,” the catcher said.

It was much better than good for Alcantara.

The Miami Marlins’ ace was masterful on the mound as he threw the fourth complete game of his career and got just enough run support for a 4-3 win at loanDepot park to avoid a three-game sweep. Miami (18-22) dropped the first two games of the series 5-3 on Friday and 4-3 on Saturday.

Alcantara held the Braves (19-22) to three unearned runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven. He recorded the 27 outs on 115 pitches.

Over his last three starts, all Marlins wins, Alcantara has given up five total runs (two earned runs) over 24 innings after beginning the season with a 3.03 ERA through his first five starts.

“I’ve been working hard to keep getting better,” Alcantara said, “and to compete.”

He did that Sunday.

It started with maximizing his pitch count and rarely laboring through innings. Alcantara threw more than 15 pitches in an inning just twice — a 25-run fifth that included an unearned run and a 16-pitch sixth inning.

“He was pretty clean all day,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Wasn’t a lot of battles he had to go through.”

Next was being balanced with his pitch selection and effectively using his full arsenal. Alcantara threw his sinker and slider 32 times each, his changeup 30 times and his four-seam fastball 21 times. He got Braves hitters to whiff on 25 of their 70 swings. He also regularly induced weak contact. Nine of his outs were groundouts.

“Everything was good,” Alcantara said. “Everything was perfect to compete.”

The Braves made him compete for the final three outs. Miami entered the ninth with a three-run lead and Alcantara at 103 pitches. His leash was short — Mattingly said they had Alcantara pegged for about 115 pitches at the most on Sunday depending on how his outing unfolded.

Travis d’Arnaud and Ozzie Albies started the ninth with back-to-back doubles, with d’Arnaud’s coming after Jesus Aguilar dropped a pop up in foul territory to allow the at-bat to continue, to drive in a run.

Austin Riley then hit a fly ball to right field for the first out of the inning that moved Albies to third. Dansby Swanson hit an RBI groundout that drove in Albies to cut Miami’s lead to one. Adam Duvall popped out to catcher Jacob Stallings to end the game. Stallings and Alcantara embraced at home plate after the final out was recorded.

“They were aggressive today,” Alcantara said of the Braves. “I just had to take advantage of that, throw my best pitches and compete.”

The only run he gave up before that on Sunday came in the fifth inning. The Braves’ Albies reached third base on an error by Jesus Sanchez when he dropped a ball on the warning track in center field. Swanson then drove Albies home with a bloop single that dropped into shallow right field.

That tied the game at 1-1, with the Marlins having opened scoring in the first on a Garrett Cooper sacrifice fly that scored Jazz Chisholm Jr., who led off with a walk and made it to third base on a Jesus Aguilar double.

Miami retook the lead on a Brian Anderson RBI single in the sixth that scored Cooper. The Marlins added a pair of runs in the seventh. Stallings hit an RBI single that drove in Erik Gonzalez, who led off the inning with a single, stole second and reached third on an errant throw from d’Arnaud. Avisail Garcia followed four batters later with a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded that scored Stallings.

“We got what we needed today,” Mattingly said. “We were able to get some hits to move runners and move some guys across. It was good to get those.”

An infield of injuries

The Marlins’ infield depth is being severely tested as the group deals with an assortment of injuries.

Joey Wendle and Jon Berti are on the injured list. Wendle has been sidelined since May 12 with a right hamstring strain, his second issue with that hamstring already this season. Berti was placed on the IL since May 7 following a positive COVID-19 test.

Shortstop Miguel Rojas has been dealing with a left calf injury since May 11, when he was removed from the Marlins’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He left late in Miami’s game Saturday and did not play Sunday.

And now Chisholm Jr. is dealing with a left leg issue. He was spiked by Albies on a stolen base attempt in the eighth inning Saturday and was playing gingerly the rest of the game while dealing with a knee contusion. He started on Sunday but was removed in the third inning with left hamstring tightness. Joe Dunand, who was recalled from Triple A Jacksonville prior to the game, finished the game at second base and reached base twice on a single and hit by pitch.

Wendle and Berti did baserunning drills pregame with Mattingly, general manager Kim Ng and the training staff observing. The two will most likely go on a rehab assignment before rejoining the active roster.

More injury updates and roster moves

The Marlins optioned Daniel Castano to Triple A Jacksonville to make room for Dunand on the active roster.

Richard Bleier (recovery after having COVID-19) began a rehab assignment with Triple A Jacksonville on Sunday, throwing 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the first game of the Jumbo Shrimp’s doubleheader.