Big goal for the Big Fish
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If Miami Marlins starter Jose Fernandez really wants to reach his stated goal of a 1.95 ERA this season, he probably can't afford to groove thigh-high fastballs to hitters like Carlos Gonzalez.

To be fair, Fernandez was pitching with a 6-0 lead Monday night and wasn't wasting any pitches.

But still, he may want that run back near the end of the year.

Fernandez dominated the Colorado Rockies on Opening Day like he did to so many other teams during his rookie year, scattering five hits, striking out nine and walking none in six frames.

The CarGo homer was the only run he gave up, and the sheepish grin the 21- year-old flashed as Gonzalez was rounding the bases let us know that he knew he let one get away.

Fernandez didn't get much experience pitching with that large of a lead last season -- the Marlins scored just 3.6 runs per start for him -- and unless new cleanup hitter Casey McGehee (four RBI on Opening Day) had a body-switching experience during his season in Japan, Miami's offense isn't going to be very good this year either.

That means most of the pitches Fernandez throws this year will come in high- leverage situations in which he won't be pitching to contact.

And Fernandez has shown that if he doesn't want you to hit the ball, you probably aren't going to hit it.

Over his last 120 1/3 innings last season, the right-hander went 10-3 with a 1.50 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and a 135/37 K/BB.

He finished 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP and 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings to win the NL Rookie of the Year. Fernandez also was third in NL Cy Young Award voting behind Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.

Not bad for a guy who never played above Single-A prior to last season.

When I watch Fernandez pitch, his goal not only seems reasonable, it seems inevitable.

His fastball is electric at 95-plus mph and his curveball is so baffling it makes opposing hitters want to retire and Miami hitters actually happy they play for the Marlins.

According to FanGraphs, batters hit .114 against Fernandez' hook in 2013, and he used the pitch to get 117 of his 187 Ks.

Fernandez also knows pressure after it took four attempts to defect from Cuba to the United States. On the fourth try, Fernandez, then 15 years old, had to dive into turbulent seas to save his mother.

The still-rebuilding Marlins probably won't provide Fernandez with many pressure-packed situations this season, but if he needs a shutout in his final start of the season to lower his ERA to 1.95 or lower, I'm willing to bet he'll get it. Especially if his grandmother, Olga Fernandez, is in the house again.

Olga, who received a five-year visitation visa to exit Cuba last November, watched Fernandez pitch for the first time Monday night.

"She told me, 'Good pitching. You've got to throw a lot more strikes, though,'" Fernandez said, according to foxsports.com.

Abuela is a hard marker.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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