Jose Fernandez may have pitched his final innings of 2016 on Tuesday night.
If so, Fernandez put a nice exclamation point on his best season as a major leaguer.
Fernandez struck out 12 batters — at one point retiring 21 Nationals in a row — to help the Marlins beat Washington 1-0.
The Marlins (75-74) moved over the .500-mark for the first time since Sept. 2, won their third in a row and moved to within four games of the Mets in the Wild Card race.
“I was just trying to get quick outs and follow the game plan,” Fernandez said. “With the lineup [the Nationals] have they can do some damage.”
Giancarlo Stanton gave Fernandez all the run support he would need with a solo home run to right field in the bottom of the sixth inning. The opposite field blast was Stanton’s second in as many games and his 27th of the season.
“Getting a few at-bats instead of one at-bat a day helps,” Stanton said. “That one was just a good swing and a good contact type ball.”
Fernandez, who did not walk a batter, threw 111 pitches and improved to 16-8, adding to a career-high win total for a season, and lowered his ERA to 2.86.
Fernandez entered his second season following Tommy John surgery with a plan to pitch in the neighborhood of 180-190 innings.
Fernandez’s eight shutout frames Tuesday night was his longest start since April 29, 2014 — prior to his injury — and brought his total for the season to 182 2/3 innings.
Should Fernandez make his next start it would be Sunday at home against the Braves.
“I’m not the manager,” Fernandez said. “I’ll come in here tomorrow and I’ll cheer my teammates and I’ll be ready to go if I have to go and I understand that whatever happens, it’s not my call.”
Fernandez continued to thrive both at home and against the Nationals (88-63), who lost their fourth in a row.
Fernandez improved to 29-2 in 42 career starts at Marlins Park with a 1.49 ERA, and improved to 7-0 with a 0.99 ERA in 10 career starts against Washington.
It was Fernandez’s eighth start this season without allowing a run, his ninth double-digit strikeout game, and the Marlins recorded their third shutout when he starts.
Fernandez’s 21 consecutive batters retired was a career-best streak and the third-longest in Marlins’ history tying Ricky Nolasco (Aug. 18, 2008 in San Francisco) and two behind the club record of 23 in a row shared by Nolasco and Kevin Brown.
“I feel like it was the best game Jose’s thrown all year,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He used his changeup early in the game. That was a weapon for him all game, keeping them off balance. I thought he was calm today. He wasn’t over-throwing. He showed a lot of really good things today.”
After giving up a double to Stephen Drew, the second batter he faced, Fernandez did not allow another base runner until Wilson Ramos hit a bloop single to center field in the eighth. That was followed by a high-chopper that found its way into right field off the bat of Brian Goodwin.
Fernandez, who had thrown 103 pitches to that point, struck out Danny Espinosa and induced a ground out to second from pinch hitter Daniel Murphy to preserve the lead.
“I think it’s all the process of learning how to pitch and trying to make a pitch and not overthrow it,” Fernandez said. “Not try to make it unhittable and just try to put it where they can’t do so much damage and get a ground ball.”
With closer A.J. Ramos unavailable after pitching in four of the past five games, Phelps picked up his fourth save.
In the ninth inning, Phelps took a grounder off the bat of Drew off his right leg resulting in a single. Phelps stayed in the game, struck out Bryce Harper and induced Anthony Rendon to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
“I knew it hit me in the meat,” Phelps said. “The bigger panic for me was figuring out where the ball was to try and get the out. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
Stanton played six innings and got a chance to test himself physically as he continues his return from a severe groin strain. Stanton jumped for Drew’s double in the first inning coming up just short near the wall.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Stanton said. “This is as interesting as it gets. One day it will be really tight like I can’t move and the other day it will be like nothing is wrong. I was interested to see how it would react after that jump and it felt fine.”