Homecoming was a disaster for Jose Fernandez.
Playing only a short distance from the Tampa home where he spent his teenage years, in front of a throng of his friends and former teachers from nearby Alonso High, the young rookie for the Marlins turned in the worst performance of his budding major-league career.
“It hurts,” Fernandez said Monday after giving up seven runs — four earned — in a 10-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. “It’s good to come back home. I’m sorry it didn’t come out the way it should. I tried my best.”
Fernandez, 20, was making just the 10th start of his fledgling career.
But the kid didn’t have it, walking the first two batters he faced in a disastrous second inning, plunking the third, and allowing six runs before he was able to finish the frame.
The inning left Fernandez perplexed and scratching his head.
“Weird inning,” he said. “I don’t know what happened in the second inning. Maybe I was trying to be too fine, and that’s what happened.”
Marlins manager Mike Redmond thinks he knows the cause: In trying to impress and dazzle his large contingent of follows, Fernandez probably overdid it and paid the price.
“He was overthrowing,” Redmond said. “He threw a couple of fastballs — I think he 99 [mph] a few times. That’s great on a radar gun. But that shows me he’s trying to do a little bit too much.”
Fernandez capped off a three-strikeout first inning by whiffing Rays star Evan Longoria on a 99-mph high heater but came unglued in the second. After his lack of control caused him to load the bases, he fell apart even further, giving up an RBI single to Yunel Escobar, another run on a safety squeeze bunt by Ben Zobrist that was played poorly by catcher Rob Brantly, and a three-run home run to Kelly Johnson — one of two such three-run blasts for Johnson in Monday’s game.
“He just couldn’t get it back together after that,” Redmond said.
Despite the early, 6-0 deficit, the Marlins managed to battle back and pull within a run, 7-6, by scoring three runs in the fourth inning off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi and three more in the fifth. But they couldn’t get over the hump and went down to their sixth consecutive loss.
While their bats showed some rare life on Monday, with every member of the lineup contributing at least one hit and the team totaling 11, the Marlins made their share of mistakes, too.
Take Zobrist’s safety squeeze with one out in the second. Brantly fielded the bunt cleanly in front of the plate but tried to get greedy and threw to second in an ill-advised bid to get a double play. His throw pulled Adeiny Hechavarria off the bag. A run scored and everyone was safe.
“That’s one of those plays where he got the ball and he just didn’t look,” Redmond said of Brantly. “He didn’t look at the runner at third base. He could have run him back, and it’s an easy play. But he tried to turn a double play, and I think we got a little exposed there on some of our inexperience.”
The Marlins also had a high, infield fly land amidst a trio of fielders for a double. That ball might have gotten lost in the white roof at Tropicana Field. And when reliever Dan Jennings didn’t bother to hold Johnson at second as he was purposely walking Longoria, Johnson stole third on the fourth pitch of the intentional walk.
But the story was Fernandez.
“Will he remember this outing? I’m sure,” Redmond said. “Will he build off it? Absolutely. He’ll be a better pitcher down the road, even though today was a tough one to swallow for him.”
Said Fernandez: “The most important part is I’m learning from it.”