He’s the Marlins’ brightest beam of light (see: hope) in an otherwise dark start to a baseball season.
Jose Fernandez is making the move from Class A competition to the majors – beautifully, so far – after being dominant in Greensboro and Jupiter last season while going a combined 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA as batters hit .191 against him.
He’s 20 years old.
Was he ready for the bigs? That was the question at the end of spring training when injuries to two starters forced the promotion.
Fernandez has answered eloquently with two strong starts – a third comes Thursday night in Cincinnati – during which he has allowed one earned run on five hits in 11 innings while striking out 13 yet getting no decision. Opponents have hit .132 against him.
It’s as though he’s still with the Grasshoppers and Hammerheads, mowing down overmatched minor leaguers.
“It’s two starts,” Fernandez scoffed while seated at his cubicle in the Marlins clubhouse before Wednesday night’s game against Washington. “Anybody can have two good starts.”
And there it is.
There’s the maturity beyond his years that’s so obvious to anyone paying attention.
Perhaps it’s a characteristic forged by Fernandez’s well-documented defection from Cuba five years ago.
He escaped with his mother and sister on a fourth try – after having spent time in jail for the previous attempts – amidst a barrage of gunfire. They spent a day-and-a-half on the water in a speedboat, and later went from Mexico to Texas to Florida. Fernandez became a high school star in Tampa worthy enough for the Marlins to make him a first-round draft choice (14th overall) in 2011.
Now, he has sped to the majors.
It already seems a comfortable fit.
“It’s just fun coming to the park every day knowing you’re going to face the best players in the world,” Fernandez said. “You learn about pitching. I’m glad to be in the dugout watching hitters — how they handle themselves and what they want to do.
“I’m really studying guys and seeing how they swing.”
There’s an unmistakable fearlessness and confidence about Fernandez, but it doesn’t translate to bravado.
“As long as a pitcher makes the pitches he has to make, there’s a high percentage of getting an out,” Fernandez reasoned in elementary baseball math. “But it’s not like high school where you can throw it 95 (mph) by most batters. If you throw it 95 in the wrong place up here, it’s going 408 feet. You gotta make less mistakes.”
Marlins catcher Rob Brantly has been impressed.
“He’s always had success, and believes he’ll keep having it,” Brantly said. “He has a great idea of what he wants to do on the mound. Not a good idea, a great idea.
“I couldn’t pick a best pitch. He has confidence in all of them, and really pounds the zone.”
Fernandez is thick and powerfully built through the calves and thighs, and comes packed in a 6-2, 242-pound frame. He looks like a bigger version of Tom Seaver, to use a reference from a different generation.
“The legs are important,” Fernandez said, “especially when I’m trying to keep the ball low.”
He’s looking forward to the Cincinnati assignment, and isn’t awed by his start or his surroundings.
“Not at all,” Fernandez said. “I’m not thinking about (Class) A to here. I’m just thinking about every game like it’s the World Series.”
Ah, the optimism of youth.
But how protective of Fernandez might the Marlins be this season? He pitched 134 innings last year (recording 158 strikeouts), so even an increase of 20 percent in terms of workload would limit him to approximately 160 innings this season.
That sounds about right.
That’s as it should be with the Marlins having reconfigured themselves yet again with little chance for success anytime soon.
The need to be conservative with Fernandez should trump anything else. It would be a shame to use up too much of such a bright beam of light too soon.