Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire watched right-hander Victor Alcantara make professional hitters look utterly lost in a scoreless inning of work Monday against the Cardinals.
Asked about it afterward, he said, “He’s just filthy. I saw those guys (hitters) panic. They were panicking up there.”
It’s easy to forget about Alcantara. The soon-to-be 26-year-old Dominican is a very quiet presence in the clubhouse. The only time you notice him is when he’s on a mound throwing a baseball. And then, you can’t take your eyes off him.
Using mostly a lively sinker, which he rushes up to the plate at 93-94 mph, Alcantara established himself last season, posting a 2.40 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and a 3.5-1 strikeout to walk rate in 30 innings of work.
“I am just trying to keep the same mentality, the same mindset,” said Alcantara through Tigers translator Carlos Guillen. “I know there are a couple of things I need to work on, but basically what I am doing is keeping the same state of mind and working hard.”
Because he knows, regardless of how well he pitched last season, he is in yet another dogfight for a bullpen spot.
“All of us have to do what we have to do,” he said. “I feel strong, I feel good being back here. But from time to time, we have to forget this is a competition. When you just focus on that, you can go away from the things you are supposed to be focused on.
“You can get in trouble doing that.”
Alcantara, whom the Tigers initially acquired from the Angles for Cameron Maybin in 2017, threw 440 pitches last season — 317 of those were sinkers, according to Statcast data. Opponents hit .269 off that pitch. He threw a firm change-up (88 mph) 83 times and a slider (90 mph) 36 times.
Opponents hit .136 off the change-up and got one hit (a home run) off his slider.
So, forgive the Tigers coaching staff for scratching their heads a bit when he started developing a fourth pitch — a split-fingered fastball.
“He doesn’t need nothing else,” pitching coach Rick Anderson said. “What he’s been doing is fine. He’s been pretty successful with what he’s doing.”
Alcantara got a called third strike Monday, freezing the hitter with a pitch that dropped about six inches.
“I asked him what that was and he said it was a change-up,” Anderson said. “And I said, ‘So why do you need a split?’ I told him don’t tinker with it until we need to. If it’s not broke, don’t fix.”
Most relievers, especially short-inning guys like Alcantara, usually subtract pitches from the repertoire, not add them.
“I don’t see it that way,” Alcantara said. “If you can use a lot of pitches, it’s an advantage. One pitch can get you out of trouble. I know I can rely on four different pitches to get out of trouble.”
Alcantara’s past troubles were never about his stuff. They were all related to his ability to throw strikes. He spent the entire winter before last season doing nothing but working on improving his ability to locate his pitches.
It paid off. He walked just seven batters in 51.1 innings at Triple-A Toledo before getting called up. He walked six in 30 innings with the Tigers.
“I feel very comfortable,” he said. “I trust a lot of my stuff. I feel like I can throw pitches when I want and where I want. Basically that trust in myself is still very good.”
He pitched his second scoreless inning of the spring Thursday against the Braves. He did not throw a splitter. His sinker, dancing at 95 mph, and his change-up were more than enough.