Getty Images

Marlins starting pitcher and reigning NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara is currently on the injured list due to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow. The UCL is, of course, the ligament that, when torn, generally needs Tommy John surgery for repair. Alcantara has said he's preparing to return this season and it looks like that plan has been set in place. 

The first step is a start for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Triple-A) Thursday at 7:35 p.m. ET against the Nashville Sounds, the Jumbo Shrimp announced

Alcantara has thrown a full bullpen sessions twice within the last week and a half. He told reporters on Monday that he could be back to help the Marlins' playoff push, though no exact timetable was provided. His bullpen session Monday was 20 pitches. His last start in the majors came on Sept. 3, when he threw eight innings in a win against the Nationals.

The 28-year-old pitcher had a 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 207 strikeouts in his 228 2/3 innings last season, including an MLB-best six complete games and a shutout. He secured the first-ever Cy Young in Marlins history. 

Through 28 starts this season, he's had a down year, pitching to a 4.14 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 151 strikeouts in 184 2/3 innings. He's completed three games and has a shutout. Regardless of the down year, the Marlins are a better team with Alcantara in their rotation and he's capable of dominating on any given day. 

The Marlins enter Thursday a half game back of the the Cubs for the third and final NL wild-card spot. At 79-74, they are a half game up on the Reds in this fight. The Marlins won the season series with the Cubs and split with the Reds. 

There's no word on how the Marlins would use Alcantara if he does return at some point here this season. It's possible he could be used in relief, but his best asset is his ability to be a workhorse and go deep into games as a starter. It's also possible that this injury is what prevents the Marlins from using him as a starter. The start Thursday for Jacksonville will give us a better idea, as we'll get to see what kind of workload with which he's tasked and how he handles it.