JUPITER -- Jose Fernandez was all smiles after the Marlins sent him to the minors Wednesday.
The Marlins’ top pitching prospect — the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America — always knew spring training for him was nothing more than a sneak preview of what’s to come in the future.
Better days lie ahead.
“They were trying to make it easy for me, and I told them, ‘You don’t have to. It’s not a big deal,’ ” Fernandez said. “I understand how it works. I’m fine.”
The Marlins reassigned the 20-year-old right-hander to minor-league camp. But it could be the last time.
When Fernandez makes his way to the majors, perhaps by the middle of this season, it could be for good.
“He was impressive,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.
“He was exactly how everybody described him.”
Said Fernandez of his brief exit meeting with Redmond and front office executives: “They told me, ‘Hopefully, this is the last time.’ I’m pretty confident, and I think I can pitch in the big leagues today. That’s my personal opinion. Maybe I’m not ready. But that’s how I feel.
“I feel I’ve got to learn, and I’ve got to do the stuff that will help me be more successful in the big leagues. I think I will.”
Fernandez appeared in only one Grapefruit League game, delivering two scoreless innings and allowing one baserunner while striking out two. He also pitched against Venezuela in the country’s tuneup for the World Baseball Classic.
“It was fun,” he said. “I enjoyed every bit of it, being around big-league guys, pitching against Venezuela. I enjoyed every bit of it, and I’m glad they gave me a chance to be here.”
Fernandez always knew this day would come. He’s just surprised it didn’t happen sooner.
“I expected it,” he said. “I’ve been expecting it the last two weeks. I’m 20 years old. I can’t be upset. I can’t. It’s not a secret. I knew I was going to get sent down. I was waiting for it.
“I know I’ve got to get ready for my [minor-league] season. I want to get my routine going. I knew they made the right call.”
Said Redmond: “His day will come.”
• The Marlins were held to two hits in a 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night in Jupiter.
• In addition to Fernandez, the Marlins also reassigned outfielder Jake Marisnick to minor-league camp and optioned right-handed reliever Chris Hatcher to Triple A New Orleans. The Marlins now have 49 players in camp.
Who’s at first?
The situation at first base has become even more problematic for the Marlins. Joe Mahoney is out with an oblique injury that could cause him to miss the rest of spring training.
“He’s not able to do anything,” Redmond said.
While Redmond said he is hopeful Mahoney can make it back soon, the injury is one that tends to heal slowly.
“I didn’t know we’d have such a terrible time finding a first baseman,” Redmond said.
The Marlins will be without Logan Morrison (knee) until April, and Casey Kotchman missed a few days of spring training when he cut his finger.
Mahoney, who was claimed from the Orioles in November, gave the Marlins a left-handed power bat that is sorely lacking. Mahoney had gone 7 for 30 and was the team’s co-leader in homers this spring with three.
“He was definitely in the mix,” Redmond said.
• Third baseman Placido Polanco (oblique strain) said he hopes to play Saturday.
• Thursday: No game.
• Friday: Marlins RHP John Maine at New York Yankees LHP CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA), 1:05 p.m., Tampa.
• Saturday: Marlins RHP Henderson Alvarez (9-14, 4.85) at New York Mets (TBA), 1:10 p.m., Port St. Lucie.