Fernandez dismisses notion of sophomore slump
Marlins' ace feeling confident heading into second Major League campaign
JUPITER, Fla. -- When you have as much perspective as Jose Fernandez, you shrug off talk about jinxes.
After all, the Marlins' ace has endured too many hard life lessons to believe his skills will somehow diminish in 2014 simply because he is entering his second big league season.
Fernandez is not your typical hard-throwing, 21-year-old right-hander. His path to baseball's upper echelon was filled with low moments. Much of them have been well documented, and center around how he defected from Cuba on a speed boat, under a hail of gunfire at age 15. And he spent time in a Cuban prison after his unsuccessful attempts to flee the country.
Just making it across treacherous seas, eventually settling in Tampa, Fla., was a personal triumph. Five years later, Fernandez beat the baseball odds and reached the Majors at age 20, skipping over the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Not only did Fernandez achieve his goal at such an early age, he dominated -- earning an All-Star appearance before earning National League Rookie of the Year honors.
As overpowering as Fernandez was in his first season, he now has to deal with the age-old cliché -- Will he fall prey to the sophomore jinx?
"I try not to hear it," Fernandez said flatly.
He can't help hear about it, because even those close to him have asked.
"I've heard about it," Fernandez said. "A lot of guys have said something about it. I don't know, but, I'm feeling really, really good."
Physically and mentally, Fernandez is well prepared to not only assume the role of ace of the Marlins, but to prove that he isn't just a one-season wonder.
If anything, Fernandez is determined to elevate his game.
"Hopefully this year is going to be a lot better than last year," Fernandez said. "I've got some goals. When the time is right, I will tell you guys. They are written down. But I'm doing pretty good right now."
Obviously, there will be adjustments, there always are.
Manager Mike Redmond points out the league knows Fernandez now, and players will change their approaches. Still, talent is talent. And Fernandez has the ability to counter their adjustments and still be a force.
"He's so talented and has such good stuff," Redmond said. "I have no worries that he is going to make those adjustments as well. I like his chances. He's got tremendous stuff. We've just got to get him out there, keep him going, and get him ready for the season."
There are so many things that separate Fernandez from the rest of the pack. His energy is contagious. His work ethic is unparalleled, and his drive is unrelenting.
Fernandez is most comfortable standing on the mound and flat out competing.
There is an anticipation and appreciation for the game that is not engrained in everybody. And only a select few possess such remarkable stuff to get batters out.
Even on the Marlins' first day of Spring Training, Fernandez was so amped up he had to be told to hold back a few seconds before tossing his first warmup pitch.
The reason? Each bullpen session is timed, and Fernandez was to begin with the others in the group.
But Fernandez was so eager to throw to his new catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, he jumped the gun with one warmup toss. Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez barked for Fernandez to wait a minute.
Holding back is not a big part of Fernandez's nature.
On the mound, the baseball world has seen what he can do. As a rookie on a 100-loss team, Fernandez went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA.
He didn't slow down in the offseason, either. Instead, Fernandez was constantly on the go, taking up the hobby of bicycle riding near his home in Tampa. But he wasn't just a casual rider. Fernandez went all in, getting a top-line bike, a Specialized S-Works Venge, referred to as a "racing powerhouse." On a typical week, he would pedal 500 miles a week.
Fernandez brought the 15-pound bike to Spring Training, and he rides it from his apartment to camp whenever possible.
Biking remains a passion, but it was done to help his craft. Baseball is always first, and the cycling, Fernandez says, helps build endurance.
Fernandez is constantly seeking an edge, because his ultimate goal is to be the best at his profession.
"I come here to compete," Fernandez said. "I come here to throw better than everybody and do the best that I can. I'm not coming here just to say, 'Hey, I'm on the team, I'm not going to work.' That's not going to happen. I like to work hard. I like to compete. This Spring Training, [I'm going] to work hard and get ready. Let's see how it goes."