Marlins' rookie pitcher Fernandez exudes confidence beyond his years
By Travis Sawchik
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
Perhaps the characteristic that best explains Jose Fernandez's remarkable rookie campaign is not his fastball, which reaches 99 mph, or his curve with its Wiffle ball-like break. Perhaps it is his confidence, which figures to be on exhibit when he again faces Pirates rookie Gerrit Cole at 12:35 p.m. Thursday at PNC Park.
Fernandez (8-5, 2.54), the reigning NL Rookie of the Month, rarely has appeared to be overwhelmed even though he did not turn 21 until July 31. Despite never having pitched above Single-A entering the season, he threw five innings of one-run, eight-strikeout baseball in his debut against the Mets in April at Citi Field.
On the same mound in an inning of work in the All-Star Game, he painted the corner with a 96 mph fastball to strike out Dustin Pedroia. He then struck out Chris Davis with his hammer curveball, which teammate Logan Morrison has dubbed the “defector,” a testament to its quality.
Fernandez joined Bob Feller and Dwight Gooden as the only pitchers to strike out two or more in an All-Star Game at age 20 or younger. Over his past two starts, he's struck out 27. Fernandez is the first pitcher with consecutive 13-strikeout games since Randy Johnson in 2004, according to Elias, and he's the first pitcher 21 or younger with multiple 13-strikeout games in a season since Kerry Wood in 1998.
Where is the confidence and precociousness derived from?
Perhaps it's rooted in perspective and perseverance. Fernandez was imprisoned after multiple failed defection attempts from his native Cuba. During one defection attempt at the age of 15, he dived into rough seas to rescue his mother, who had fallen overboard.
“It was the deep sea, and it wasn't fun,” Fernandez said. “My life is baseball. That's why I took the risks I took to get here, all those things that happened to me to get here. Since I lived in Cuba, it's been my dream.”
Fernandez thinks his success has more to do with preparation than perseverance.
Fernandez eventually defected and attended Alonso High in Tampa, Fla., where he began working with personal pitching coach Orlando Chinea. Chinea, also a Cuban defector, worked with future big leaguers from Cuba such Jose Contreras and Livan Hernandez.
“Since I was in high school, my pitching coach (Chinea) was training me to be a big league pitcher,” Fernandez said. “He said, ‘We are not getting ready for this. We are getting ready for the big leagues.' So that's been my mindset to pitch as a big leaguer. … We would throw a 3-1 breaking ball, 3-1 changeup in high school. It feels like I've been here before. I feel comfortable here.”
Fernandez looked quite comfortable in his past two starts, striking out 13 Pirates on July 28 and 14 Indians on Friday.
He'll be linked throughout his career to Cole, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft. Fernandez was selected 14th overall. Count Cole among the admirers of Fernandez's right arm.
“He's striking out the world. … He's going to go try and strike out the side,” Cole said, “and I'm going to try and do the same. You love that competition.”
The Marlins chose to break spring training with Fernandez, which shocked baseball. Marlins manager Mike Redmond said he pushed for the move as much because of Fernandez's stuff as his mental makeup.
“No situation, no team rattles or intimidates. That's part of what makes him special,” Redmond said. “Since going to the All-Star Game, it seems like he's taken himself to another level. I think that was a big boost for him, confidence-wise, knowing he can pitch and be a part of the best players in the game.”
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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