Jose Fernandez’s cellphone came to life with calls and text messages from friends and family in January when the Marlins signed free agent infielder Chris Johnson.
“I got a lot of calls,” Fernandez said. “My mom said, ‘Is that the guy with the problem?’ ”
Fernandez was laughing as he told the story.
He can laugh about it now.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“We’re perfect,” Fernandez said of their relationship.
But three years ago, he and Johnson became embroiled in a testy, benches-clearing exchange at Marlins Park after the pitcher hit the first home run of his big-league career.
The Braves took exception to the way Fernandez flung his bat and stared at the ball as it sailed over the fence. As Fernandez was approaching third base on his home run trot, Johnson — then the Braves’ third baseman — spat toward the bag.
Fernandez spat back at the ground.
“He’s got some stuff going on that upsets people sometimes,” Johnson said after that game. “There were some guys in the dugout who weren’t too happy with the smiling after getting people out and all that kind of stuff.”
Ultimately, Fernandez — then a rookie — apologized to the Braves.
And now Fernandez and Johnson are teammates, able to joke about their run-in. Johnson’s locker at the Marlins’ spring training complex in Jupiter is three away from Fernandez’s.
“As far as I’m concerned, that was a long time ago,” Johnson said. “It was against the other team, and you’re not supposed to like the other team. But once you become teammates, it’s a bond among guys, and now you’re fighting together.”
Johnson was signed to be a backup at first and third base, and he could end up in a platoon with first baseman Justin Bour, facing left-handed pitchers that have given Bour trouble.
“I’ll be moving around,” Johnson said. “They haven’t mentioned anything specifically, just said I’m going to be working at first and third, and maybe a little bit of the outfield, too, if I’m needed out there against left-handed pitching.”
Johnson was an every-day third baseman for the Astros and Braves before transitioning to a reserve role last season when he played for the Braves and Indians.
His .314 average against lefties intrigued the Marlins, who signed him to a one-year deal. And he’s looking forward to playing alongside Fernandez and not having to face him.
Johnson joked that Fernandez is such a tough pitcher for hitters that the best way to handle him is “just try to pull a hamstring and get out of the lineup.”
Johnson would prefer to forget the 2013 dust-up with Fernandez, but knows it’s something not easily forgotten.
“I think all of us have a good understanding that, when you play against each other, things happen during the heat of the game that you almost regret immediately after the game,” Johnson said. “People talked about how [Fernandez] was so down on how he reacted to the situation. I was, too. If I could go back, I would change a lot of things about that situation.”
As for Fernandez, Johnson added: “I think the reason why everybody gets so upset about it is because he’s good. You’re getting tired of him getting you out every single time you go up to the plate. It’s one-two-three, see you later. I think that’s part of the reason. But I’m really excited to be his teammate, I’ll tell you that.”
Fernandez said when he ran into Johnson at the team’s charity golf tournament on Wednesday, he spoke about their flare-up, jokingly threatening to plunk him Tuesday if the two should square off on the first day of live batting practice.
“I said, ‘Hey, you better not be in my [batting practice] group,” Fernandez said. “That’s the first thing I said to him. We were joking about it. But now, he’s a big part of what we’ve got going on here now. I think he’s going to help us a lot.”
FACIAL HAIR POLICY
Marlins reliever Mike Dunn shaved his goatee.
The reason: The team is going back to a “no-facial-hair” policy.
“Guys may or may not like it,” new manager Don Mattingly said. “I just think when we all get together, this is what we want and this is the way we go.”
The Marlins have gone back and forth over the years on allowing their players to grow beards, goatees and mustaches.
Several players, including Dunn, grew beards last season.
Now, it’s no stubble allowed.
“Initially, not too many guys were happy about it,” Dunn admitted.
For years, Marlins players were not permitted to have facial hair of any kind. That rule changed in 2012 when Ozzie Guillen took over as manager.
Dunn and Mattingly said that, in the end, it’s not that important.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to win games,” Mattingly said.
Said Dunn: “Play hard. That’s all that matters.”
▪ The Marlins released left-handed reliever Troy Patton, a non-roster invitee.
Patton, a mainstay in the Baltimore Orioles bullpen in 2012 and ’13, missed most of last season while serving an 80-game suspension for a repeat violation of the MLB drug policy for amphetamine use.
The Marlins now have 63 players in camp.