MIAMI — Hard right turns back to the first-base dugout were the story of the day against Sandy Alcantara, but as Billy McKinney tracked the flight of his ninth-inning drive on Saturday, the Yankees outfielder believed he still had time to shift the narrative.
McKinney chugged down the baseline as left fielder Bryan De La Cruz charged toward the wall, his pace easing to watch the ball drop into his glove on the warning track. One batter later, Alcantara polished off a complete game in the Marlins’ 3-1 win over the Yankees at loanDepot park.
“He got ahead with every pitch. He threw strikes with every pitch he had,” McKinney said. “Even when he was getting in 0-2 counts, he was still attacking and he wasn’t shying away from any pitches.”
One day after the Yankees seemed to regain some of their offensive strut, going 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position, Alcantara knocked them back down. The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner enjoyed one of his best starts of the season, permitting just five hits and two walks while striking out 10.
“You realize you’re up against a guy that’s really capable when he’s executing at the level he is, but for us, it’s about getting wins right now,” said manager Aaron Boone.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s seventh-inning RBI single accounted for the Yankees’ only run. New York is seeking its first series victory against a team other than the Athletics or Royals since late June; the Yanks are 1-7-3 in their past 11 series.
“I thought Billy had a great at-bat there in the end,” Boone said. “That ball might be out in most parks. He had a few really good at-bats against him today. Just fell a little bit short there.”
Statcast showed McKinney’s drive would have only been a homer in two Major League parks: Guaranteed Rate Field and Minute Maid Park.
Through three career starts against the Yankees, Alcantara is now 1-0 with a 1.16 ERA (3 ER / 23.1 IP).
“I just want to strike out everybody over there,” Alcantara said. “My mentality when I was sitting in the dugout was, ‘Finish the game.’ I was striking out the side [in the eighth] and thinking about just trying to get ground balls, and I did it.”
While the contest was a showcase for Alcantara’s talents, it also served as an audition for a pair of Bombers rotation hopefuls in Michael King and Jhony Brito, who were utilized as the opener and bulk reliever, respectively.
In the wake of Nestor Cortes’ potentially season-ending rotator cuff injury, the Yankees are considering shifting King from his multi-inning bullpen role to a starter.
“He’s so valuable everywhere that I don’t want to leave any option closed,” Boone said.
Boone has acknowledged that there probably isn’t enough time to build King up to 100 pitches, but King said he pleaded his case about a week ago, noting that the Yanks’ bullpen has become stronger with the recent additions of Jonathan Loáisiga and Keynan Middleton.
“Honestly, it’s just how good our bullpen is, and with injuries our starting pitching is getting a little bit thin,” King said. “There are so many high-leverage guys down there. I said to [Boone], ‘I think that my best ability is going multiple innings, and I don’t think many relievers have that.’”
As such, the Yanks utilized an opener for the third consecutive game, having previously leaned on Ian Hamilton in that role. King permitted a two-run homer to Luis Arraez, tossing 41 pitches over two innings.
“I think there are a lot of times when I can provide some length to this team, and if I’m only built up to 45 [pitches], then it’s not to my full potential,” King said. “I’ve been able to develop some pitches that I didn’t have in ’20 and ’21 when I did get the opportunity to start, so I am curious to see if they will play over multiple [innings] and flipping a lineup multiple times.”
Brito did well as the bulk reliever, spinning five innings of one-run ball while striking out six. Brito’s above-average changeup has been a reliable weapon through his first 15 big league appearances, a trend that continued Saturday as he threw 22 of 27 for strikes.
“Behind an opener or as a starter, my job is to pitch,” Brito said through an interpreter. “When I’m in there, I want to do my job. I’ve got to stay locked in on that. If I’m pitching, I’ve got to stay focused on what I’m doing.”