It was just a spring training game, but that did not matter to Jose Fernandez. It could have been the seventh game of the World Series for all he cared, and before taking the mound Friday for his first spring start, the Marlins’ young ace made his intentions known.
Using a felt marker, Fernandez drew a circle around the Cardinals’ logo that someone had drawn on the clubhouse grease board, crossed it out with an “X,” and wrote the word “ muerto” — the Spanish word for “dead” — underneath.
“I wanted to kill the other team, that’s what I wanted to do,” Fernandez said afterward. “I don't like nobody that’s not on my team when it’s baseball.”
If that’s the way Fernandez feels in spring training, just imagine what he’s like when the games actually count.
Fernandez didn't exactly take out the Cardinals with his arsenal of pitches Friday at Roger Dean Stadium. But the 21-year-old didn’t exactly look meek on the mound, either, delivering two shutout innings in the Marlins’ 5-4 win over St. Louis in Miami’s Grapefruit League opener.
The reigning Rookie of the Year gave up a couple of harmless singles, struck out two, and made a powerful impression on his new battery mate, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Saltalamacchia's word to describe Fernandez: “Scary.”
“His stuff was moving,” Saltalamacchia said. “But a lot of guys were saying his curveball and slider are a lot sharper normally. [On Friday] it was a little loose, and he was inconsistent with it. But to me, I mean — [expletive]. Pretty damn good. It’s scary.”
Fernandez was restricted to only 32 pitches for his first start. He gave up a soft single to Yadier Molina, as well as an infield hit that he made worse by flipping wildly past first for an error.
Asked if he was working on any particular pitch, Fernandez responded that it was his change-up that he threw four times.
He then added: “I was working on not giving up any runs.”
The outing, by that definition, was a success. And so was the day.
When manager Mike Redmond showed up early Friday, he ran into the pitcher and asked him if he was excited about getting back on the mound.
“You don’t even have to ask me that,” Fernandez replied.
Of course he was. Fernandez hadn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 11. He was tired of the wait.
“I was going crazy,” Fernandez said. “I felt like it was Opening Day. I was happy to be back on the mound. I think I could have done a little better. But I’m not going to be too hard on myself. I had a good time out there.”
Fernandez pitched in only one Grapefruit League game last year before the Marlins, per plans, sent him to the minors. But Fernandez was called back up when injuries landed two starters on the disabled list and, of course, the rest was history. Fernandez dominated, emerging as not only one of the top young pitchers in the game, but also as one of the best pitchers regardless of experience.
He will have a full spring training in big-league camp this time, and he probably will be handed the ball for Opening Day.
“Now I can get ready a little differently,” Fernandez said. “Because I'm here.”
As in, here for good.
Notes• Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer in his first swing as a Marlin.
The first baseman, who signed a two-year deal with Miami over the winter, made a strong first impression Friday when he followed Giancarlo Stanton’s single in the first inning with a two-run blast to right off Carlos Martinez.
“It’s nice to contribute a little bit early and get some confidence going,” Jones said. “Anytime you come to a new team, you want to show you belong and you’re here to help the team win.”• Not only did veteran pitcher Kevin Slowey break camp with the Marlins last spring as a nonroster invitee, but he also landed in the starting rotation when Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi began the season on the disabled list.
It might require a similar set of unexpected roster shuffles for the 29-year-old right-hander to again make the club. His best hope of making the team would appear to be as a long man out of the bullpen.
“As we’ve seen in years past, and for me, a lot of things can change,” said Slowey, who will start against the Mets in one of two split-squad games Saturday for the Marlins.• Reliever Henry Rodriguez has cleared up his paperwork in Venezuela and is expected to join the team Sunday. Pitcher Jesus Sanchez continues to be held up in Venezuela over visa issues.
Coming up• Saturday: Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi vs. Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter; Marlins RHP Kevin Slowey vs. Mets LHP John Lannan, 1:10 p.m., Port St. Lucie.
• Sunday: Marlins LHP Brad Hand vs. Nationals RHP Doug Fister, 1:05 p.m., Viera.