Like every other decision the Miami Marlins management has and will go on to make, opting to put Jose Fernandez into the starting rotation to begin the season was a highly scrutinized move. After his Major League debut, however, nobody with even one functioning eyeball would question the decision. The kid is a beast.
Only 20 years old, Fernandez had not pitched an inning above High-A before he dazzled the Mets for five innings on Sunday. He has a complete arsenal of pitches already, and it’s scary to think of how good he will be once he masters his changeup.
He throws two fastballs, a fourseamer and a sinker, both of which average close to 96 MPH. He commands both pitches well, and his large frame and powerful lower body -- which he got from pushing cars around parking lots, according to the Mets' broadcasters -- allow him to blow away even the best fastball hitters. His sinker is lively and has nasty late movement that works its way in on the hands of righties and down and away from lefties.
His curveball, which he will throw in any count, is a devastating pitch that can both freeze a batter and get a swingthrough. He commands the pitch well and can give the batter different looks with it. Sometimes he throws it 77 MPH with big, arching right-to-left movement. More frequently, however, it looks a lot like a slurve, touching 83 MPH with late, sharp break.
As if the two fastballs and the variant curveball aren’t enough, Fernandez has a changeup, though it’s not quite polished yet. Still, because it has an almost identical trajectory to his sinker and travels about 10 MPH slower, it is an effective pitch. He throws it with good arm action, and no hitter who swung at it on Sunday made contact. During his MLB debut, he threw it mostly for strikes in the upper half of the zone. Eventually he’ll learn to use it as a put-away pitch, which is why he is easily projectable as a true ace.
Of the many things about Fernandez that impressed me on Sunday, his poise on the mound was perhaps the most crucial. He didn’t look nervous or jittery. In fact, he looked quite the opposite. He was fearless and confident. More importantly, he pitched like a veteran, holding back on his fastball and locating it well early in the count before letting loose a sick, lively 97 MPH that left even Captain America (David Wright) befuddled.
He threw mostly fastballs his first time through the lineup, and not one Met reached base. The second time through, he started incorporating his curveball a lot more, sometimes to his detriment. Even though his curveball is a great pitch, it is hittable when it’s in the zone and a batter is looking for it. His fastball is so dominant that a batter will swing through it even when he knows it’s coming. Still, he was not anxious and did not overthrow his fastball. Very impressive for a 20-year-old fireballer making his Major League debut.
It’s still very early in Jose Fernandez’s career, but there’s a lot to like about him. Like most pitchers, he loses a little velocity and ability to locate when he’s in the stretch, and, even though his lower half is quite strong, he uses a lot of arm in his delivery, making him a potential injury risk down the road. Regardless, Fernandez is more than capable of getting Major League batters out right now, and he’s already the best pitcher on Miami’s staff. Barring injury, I expect big things from the young Cuban.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmf86.