Welcome back, back, back ... Jose Fernandez!
Fans 6 over 6 innings, hits leadoff homer in fifth
MIAMI -- The long wait was to once again see Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez pitch. But the Marlins' ace energized and entertained on Thursday afternoon with his bat as well as his blazing fastball.
Fernandez celebrated a triumphant return from Tommy John surgery, striking out six, while allowing three runs in six innings and also smashing a home run in Miami's 5-4 win over the Giants at Marlins Park.
"A big day, obviously, with Jose coming back," Marlins manager Dan Jennings said after Miami completed a three-game sweep. "A welcome addition after all the work and rehab that he did for this past 14 months. To have him come back, and the energy that he brings inside our clubhouse and when he's on the mound, certainly, inside the ballpark as well."
The afternoon didn't start off smoothly for Fernandez, who gave up two runs in the first inning. But his homer off Matt Cain to lead off the fifth inning created a loud roar from the 32,598 at Marlins Park.
The drive to left field prompted chants of "Jose! Jose! Jose!" in what became a four-run inning.
"I was kind of joking around today, saying, 'I'm going to try to hit it out,' " Fernandez said. "That's all I do. I try to hit it out in BP every day. I got lucky. Really excited to put one more run on the board."
After falling behind, 3-1, on Gregor Blanco's home run in the top of the fifth, Fernandez rallied his team with his solo homer, and Justin Bour gave Miami a 5-3 lead with a three-run homer.
Fernandez is the first pitcher to homer in his first game back from Tommy John surgery since the Cubs' Kerry Wood off Houston's Jose Lima on May 2, 2000.
Statcast™ projected Fernandez's home run landed 404 feet away from home plate, with an exit velocity of 104 mph.
Fernandez, the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, last pitched in a big league game on May 9, 2014, at San Diego. A week later, the hard-throwing right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow.
Nearly 14 months later, the 22-year-old was giving the Marlins a major boost.
"We got a win, that's all I can ask for," Fernandez said. "I'm healthy, that's all I can ask for."
The hard-throwing right hander topped the radar at 99 mph, and he snapped off some quality breaking pitches, logging four of his six strikeouts on sliders.
"I thought he was throwing free and easy," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He looks healthy, I'll say that."
Feeling free and easy with his slider was huge mentally for Fernandez, who believes his injury was caused by his devastating secondary pitch.
"That's the pitch I got hurt with," he said. "There has been a lot of work, a lot of mental work to throw that pitch without thinking about any possible chance to get hurt or something like that. That was the last thing on my mind today."
The Giants gave Fernandez a rude introduction, scoring two runs on three hits in a 21-pitch first inning.
Fernandez's first pitch after his long layoff was a 94-mph fastball taken for a strike. But Blanco singled to open the game, and he moved to third on Joe Panik's double to left.
Fernandez's first strikeout came on a 99-mph fastball taken for strike three by Matt Duffy. But the Giants got on the board on Buster Posey's sacrifice fly, and Brandon Belt's flare to left gave Cain a two-run lead before he threw a pitch.
The afternoon that started off shaky certainly ended on a high for Fernandez, now 13-0 with a 1.23 ERA in 21 starts at Marlins Park.
"I almost teared up before I threw my first pitch," said Fernandez, who had his mom and grandmother at the game. "It was an experience I never had before. I'm thankful I got another chance to be on the mound."