It did not take long for Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez to be clearly ready for action in 2015. In his first start of the season, Fernandez pitched well, struck out six batters in six innings, and walked none. However, he ran into some early trouble and ended up giving up three runs despite picking up the pitcher win.
Things went a lot smoother the second time around last night against the Cincinnati Reds.
Fernandez once again showed that he has lost nothing since taking the last year and change off recovering from Tommy John surgery. The elbow appears to be healthy enough, and his performance speaks volumes. He struck out nine batters, walked none, and threw seven shutout innings to help beat the Reds 2-0 last night. Now Fernandez has 13 innings in the books and 15 strikeouts versus no walks to his name. His ERA stands at 2.08 and his FIP is an equally ridiculous 1.77 right now. He has looked completely untouchable.
When Fernandez left us before, he had a dominating curveball named the Defector and a great, high-velocity fastball. The four-seamer was traveling at 96 mph on average, and within the last two starts, it appears the Marlins starter has not lost any life on the fastball. Yesterday, he threw 55 fastballs in total, and they averaged 96.2 mph on the radar gun.
Unlike Fernandez's last start, however, the heater was a positive contributor. The pitch was swung at 36 times in 55 pitches, and it got 12 whiffs. That represents a 33 percent whiff rate on swings, which is patently absurd for a fastball. He also placed eight of the 19 fastballs at which hitters did not offer into the strike zone, making for an effective 1.4 balls to called strike ratio. The fastball was working as well as ever last night.
The Defector was also in prime form. The pitch still boasted a spectacular 42 percent whiff rate, though it was not like last week's absurd marks. Batters were able to put a little more contact on the pitch and even put the ball in play this time around. Still, the pitch boasted good fall-off-the-table sink and an increasing amount of run away from right-handed hitters, the sort of movement that no other curveball can really boast.
The changeup reared its head seven times last night, and it too was quite effective in limited duty. Once again, the pitch was boasting top-notch speed, with an average velocity of 89.1 mph. If there was any concern that a mere seven mph drop in velocity difference between Fernandez's fastball and his change was a problem, it did not look like it last night. Fernandez threw the pitch seven times, inducing swings on each attempt. Three of those were whiffs, while the rest were foul balls. None were put into play or ever called for balls. It has great arm-side run away from lefties, making it effective in disguising itself as the fastball but immediately falling off with heavy sink, unlike the heater.
It seems Fernandez had everything going for him in his first two starts. The Marlins are desperate for any positives in 2015, and while it may only be the first two games, Fernandez has already shone brightly. He may once again be the beacon of positivity in yet another otherwise ugly season in Miami.