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Sandy Alcantara is throwing bullpens. Could the Miami Marlins’ ace return this season?

MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

Sandy Alcantara was all smiles on Monday.

The Miami Marlins’ ace threw a 20-pitch bullpen session prior to the team’s series opener against the New York Mets at loanDepot park — his second since being sidelined two weeks ago with a UCL sprain in his right elbow.

“I feel happy,” Alcantara said. “Everything was great. I’m excited to be back soon.”

How soon and in what role, though, is still to be determined.

Could it be this season?

“Hopefully,” Alcantara said, adding that he’s waiting for “any decision “ the Marlins make.

Added Marlins manager Skip Schumaker: “I think anything’s possible. I’m never gonna doubt Sandy and where he’s at. Mentally he’s in a really good spot. Physically, he feels really good. We take it day by day; we’re not changing our course at all on where he’s at. He’s going through his progression but he feels really good.”

Alcantara went on the injured list on Sept. 6, three days after expressing arm discomfort following his start against the Washington Nationals on Sept. 3. Alcantara said he felt the pain on the final pitch he threw in that game — an 83.8 mph curveball to end the eighth inning.

He began playing catch on Wednesday while the team was in Milwaukee for its four-game series against the Brewers before progressing to bullpens once the team returned to Miami.

Still, the Marlins are taking a cautious approach with their ace.

“We’re happy where he’s at,” Schumaker said. “Our training staff’s doing a really good job. He’s in good spirits, so we’ll go from there.”

With such a short window for Alcantara to return, it’s unlikely that he would be fully built up to pitch deep into games as he normally does.

So if Alcantara does pitch again this season, Miami will likely have to get creative with his role down the stretch.

“This is kind of uncharted waters,” Schumaker said. “We have two weeks left. He’s coming off an elbow injury. He feels good today. He’s built different. I don’t think he’s like most guys. ... With where we are in the season, he wants to get back. He’s doing everything he can to get back. As far as when he gets back or what we see him or view him as [with his role], again, we’re gonna take this slow and take it day-by-day.”

This is Alcantara’s first IL stint with the Marlins for an arm injury. He has been sidelined two other times in his Miami tenure, once in 2018 for an armpit infection and again in 2020 after testing positive for COVID-19. Alcantara also skipped one start earlier this season due to biceps tendinitis.

Alcantara, the 2022 National League Cy Young winner, has a 4.14 ERA through 184 2/3 innings. But his ERA has dropped to 3.20 in his 10 starts since the All-Star Break, a stretch in which he threw two complete games and pitched into the eighth inning four times.

While sidelined, Alcantara said he has continued his normal routines and “a lot of arm care.”

As for his next steps? That’s hasn’t been decided yet. He could possibly throw another bullpen or face live hitters in the next few days.

But the Marlins aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves. Everything depends on how Alcantara feels.

“Again,” Schumaker said, “he just started throwing again with bullpens. He feels really good. We’ll figure out the next steps as he comes in tomorrow. But again, you saw him. He’s excited about it. Hopefully, he’s excited still tomorrow.”

One thing that is certain: Alcantara wants to contribute if he is cleared to do so with the Marlins still in the thick of the playoff race. They entered Monday tied for the National League’s third and final wild card spot.

Miami is 8-5 in Alcantara’s absence, a stretch that included four series against the three teams leading each of the NL divisions (a sweep of the Braves, 2-1 against the Dodgers and 1-3 against the Brewers) and the top wild-card team (2-1 against the Phillies).

“I feel so bad right now,” Alcantara said about being injured, “because I’ve been here watching my teammates doing everything. I’m just sitting here and enjoying them. It’s bad for me because I’ve never been like that. Hopefully this year will be the last time I’m going to be on the IL. Hopefully God gives me that health to keep doing what I’m doing.”