3/5/2014 6:49 P.M. ET
Fernandez's off-field energy translates to mound
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The first pitch on Wednesday afternoon was scheduled for 1:10 p.m. ET, but Jose Fernandez's mental alarm was already going off several hours earlier.
In fact, the Marlins' ace was so eager for his second Grapefruit League start, against the Mets at Tradition Field, that he tossed and turned through a restless night.
"I went to sleep about 8:30 thinking it was the biggest game of my life," Fernandez said. "I kept waking up, like, at 4 in the morning, and I looked at the phone. I was like, 'I still have time to sleep.' I keep waking up, waiting for the game, excited that I was throwing three innings."
Yes, Spring Training is a big deal to Fernandez, the 21-year-old who treats every day in a baseball uniform as if he is living a dream.
Fernandez makes it clear that he isn't just using his Grapefruit League starts to go through the motions. He is approaching every trip to the mound as if the results matter.
From a performance standpoint, Wednesday was another typical day at the office.
Fernandez breezed through 3 1/3 scoreless innings. He scattered two hits and struck out two without issuing a walk. He exited after 43 pitches.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "I'm enjoying it."
His fastball hit 97 mph, showing the arm strength is there. And he threw fastballs in several two-strike counts, just to give hitters something else to think about.
"The ball feels right coming out of my hand. I'm not overthrowing," he said. "I'm really happy about that. I'm not scared. Some people say, 'Oh, you're throwing too hard.' I'm not scared. That's what I'm working to do, to throw without effort, and the ball goes.
"What I work on is being confident with all my pitches. I don't want anybody to know what I'm throwing, except for the catcher. That's what I'm trying to do out there."
Fernandez has now thrown 5 1/3 scoreless innings in two Grapefruit League starts, and he is right on pace to make his first Opening Day start, which will be on March 31 against the Rockies at Marlins Park.
His energy is catchy, and it continues to rub off on his teammates.
In terms of being upbeat and always himself, Fernandez reminds catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia of David Ortiz.
Saltalamacchia was part of Boston's World Series title team a year ago, and he sees some of Big Papi in his team's young ace.
"He's a lot like Ortiz, personality-wise," Saltalamacchia said. "What you see is what you get. How he is on field is how he is off the field. Super nice guy. Always energetic, having fun. But he's young. You see a lot of guys like Pedro Martinez, who were young and acted like that. Then, 20 years later, they still act like that."
Fernandez mixes passion with intensity. He's upbeat, honest and focused on being the best, all at the same time.
"It's good," Saltalamacchia said. "It's a good personality to have in the clubhouse. You want to have fun. It doesn't need to be serious 100 percent of the time."
Pitching certainly is fun to Fernandez.
Only a team-imposed innings limit shut down his remarkable 2013 National League Rookie of the Year season. His final start came on Sept. 11, so he has so much pent-up energy he is ready to unleash right now. He is wired for every start.
"To me, pitching out there, it was another day in the season," he said. "I'm taking this like it is the season. It was another day out there, trying to work hard, trying to get better. That's what I want to do."
In his mind the offseason lasted an eternity.
"The offseason, I think, took forever," he said. "Now that I'm back playing, I'm really happy that I am. I'm really excited to be out there and play for my team.
"I haven't pitched in so long. I'm so excited to pitch. Now, the four days before my start are taking like, forever."
So much is happening so quickly for Fernandez, but a constant is how revved up his personality is.
The Marlins may have capped his innings a year ago, but they have no intention of limiting his outgoing nature.
"He's got a year of experience under his belt," manager Mike Redmond said. "At the same time, too, his personality is his personality. He's got an energy level that's off the charts. He likes to have fun. Nobody is ever going to take that away from him. That's what makes him great."