Fernandez cool and collected in history-making debut

Phenom sets Marlins record with eight strikeouts in first Major League appearance

April 7th, 2013

NEW YORK -- No matter the level, batters don't unnerve Jose Fernandez. Actually, very little makes him nervous at all.

"The only thing I'm scared of are roller coasters and snakes," the Marlins' right-hander said. "Everything else, after that, I'm good about. Those two things, I don't like."

To Fernandez, facing big league hitters is a dream come true. For the opportunity to play baseball and enjoy a better quality of life, the 20-year-old risked everything when he defected from Cuba five years ago.

If Sunday is any indication of what is to come, Fernandez has the makings of a future MLB star. His big league debut against the Mets at Citi Field was inspiring, although it ended in disappointment after the Mets rallied with two runs off Steve Cishek in the ninth inning for a 4-3 win.

"He did great. He deserved to win that game," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "That one hurts. We talked about what he can do. He showed it. He has a great fastball. For a 20-year-old kid, he's got some great secondary pitches."

Fernandez, the youngest Marlins pitcher ever to make his MLB debut, struck out eight while allowing one run on three hits over five innings.

The eight strikeouts, including freezing David Wright on three pitches in the fourth inning, are the most ever by a Marlin in a big league debut.

On Saturday, Fernandez put his path to the big leagues into perspective.

"Baseball, it is important," he said the day before taking the mound. "This is one of the biggest things. But I'm not scared to face David Wright."

After the Marlins' disheartening loss, Fernandez claimed he didn't have any jitters.

"I don't think I was nervous at all," he said. "I was actually more nervous when I was warming up in the bullpen. It was fun."

Pressure has a completely different meaning for Fernandez because his journey to the Majors was anything but conventional.

As a player, he's made the leap to the big leagues without pitching higher than Class A. But it's his personal plight that is so incredible.

On March 20, 2008, Fernandez was part of a small group that defected from Cuba.

As their boat sped away, he spent about 90 heart-racing seconds ducking as the craft was shot at by Cuban authorities. Eventually, he was safely out of reach, and on April 5, 2008, he set foot on United States soil.

Five years and two days later, the righty made his Major League debut. He is making the leap from Class A to the big leagues as the Marlins' fifth starter.

Fernandez's first pitch Sunday came 1:26 p.m. ET -- a 93-mph called strike to Collin Cowgill.

"After the first pitch, I got that in, I was like, 'All right,'" Fernandez said. "I wasn't trying to think it was a big deal. I tried to do the best that I can."

Considering all Fernandez has gone through, playing baseball is easy -- even if it is at the big league level under the bright lights of New York City.

Fear is something he has learned to dismiss.

"The only thing I was scared about was getting in that boat, getting shot at," Fernandez said. "Sometimes jumping in the water. After that, I'm not scared about anything else. I've been in jail. I've been shot at. I've been in the water. What am I going to do?

"That's why, when people say to me, 'Are you nervous, are you scared?' I'm not scared to do anything."

From his first pitch, Fernandez was a picture of complete composure. He had an eight-pitch first inning with seven strikes. In the second inning, he struck out the side in order.

"I wasn't surprised," Redmond said. "I saw him in Spring Training. That's what everybody talked about. The difference between him and some of the other pitchers was the way he handled himself. The way he works on the mound, and his confidence. I think we all saw that today."

Since 1916, Fernandez is just the seventh starter under age 21 to strike out eight or more in his MLB debut. The last to do so was David Clyde, who fanned eight with Texas in 1973.

A power pitcher who reached 97 mph on Sunday, Fernandez's first big league strikeout was Ike Davis, caught looking at an 80-mph breaking ball.

Rated seventh on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect List, Fernandez retired the first 10 batters he faced. He surrendered his first hit to Daniel Murphy, who lined a single to center in the fourth inning. It came on the rookie's 40th pitch.

The lone run Fernandez allowed came in the fifth on Anthony Recker's double.

With just 138 1/3 Minor League innings under his belt, Fernandez is on an innings limit between 150-170 this year. So after 80 pitches, the right-hander was lifted.

"Fernandez, obviously, his path is different," Redmond said. "Everybody has a different appreciation when they hit that field. I know how special it is for him to walk out on that field. I can't even imagine the emotions. It's our job to hopefully put it in perspective for him, and just focus on the baseball."