Jose Fernandez didn’t rev up and blow his fastball by hitters Monday when making his spring debut. He delivered two workmanlike innings in rather ho-hum manner, recording six outs on a couple of grounders, two fly balls, a foul pop and one strikeout on a slow changeup.
It was precisely what Don Mattingly was hoping to see.
The Marlins and their new manager are trying to change the mind-set of Fernandez, from one of a swashbuckling fireballer to that of a craftier, methodical thrower using a full arsenal of pitches to dispense of batters.
The design is two-fold: turn Fernandez into an even better pitcher than the one he already is and reduce the risk of injury to his surgically repaired right arm.
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“He’s going to be who he is,” Mattingly said of the high-energy hurler. “He’s competitive. He’s fiery. We’re not trying to [change] any of that. We just want him to understand that he can stay under control and be effective. You don’t have to go 100 miles an hour and throw every pitch as hard as you can possibly throw it.”
That doesn’t mean Fernandez will stop rearing back and bringing heat. He hit 99 on the radar gun on Monday.
He just might not resort to his fastball quite as much. Of his 34 pitches on Monday, Fernandez said seven or eight were changeups. One was a breaking ball. The rest were fastballs.
“We want him to use his pitches more,” Mattingly said. “He can go out there and pretty much pitch with his fastball, breaking ball. He used his changeup more last year, and I think that’s a good pitch for him.”
The Marlins want to be careful with Fernandez for obvious reasons. After missing more than a year because of Tommy John surgery in 2014, Fernandez returned to the mound last July. The Marlins are looking forward to having the 23-year-old sensation on the mound for them for a full season.
He’s competitive. He’s fiery. We’re not trying to [change] any of that. We just want him to understand that he can stay under control and be effective.
In addition to changing his mind-set in the way he pitches, the Marlins intend to closely monitor the number of innings he works.
“We want to see him continue to pitch and continue to develop his weapons, where he’s not having to have the mentality that I’ve got to strike everybody out,” Mattingly said. “There’s nothing wrong with having guy hit a ground ball early in the count. That’s what I’ve talked to him about. Hey, you don’t have to go full out, recoil [after every pitch].”
The bottom line, though, is ensuring Fernandez’s future.
“We think pitching that way keeps him healthy for a long time,” Mattingly said. “It’s good for him. It’s good for us. It’s good for everybody. I want to take care of Jose.”
Fernandez is all in on the new plan.
“I think they’re trying to help me out,” Fernandez said.
He recorded two ground outs in the first inning, including one that broke the bat of the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, the 2015 National league MVP. He concluded his outing by striking out Danny Espinosa on a changeup.
“It felt good to be out there,” Fernandez said. “The main goal here is to keep going out every five days and give the team a chance to win, try to get early contact, try to get outs.”
Edwin Jackson, who is in the mix for a spot in the starting rotation, had a rough outing Monday, allowing five runs on eight hits — including a home run — in only two innings.
The Marlins lost 7-4 to the Nationals.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler vs. New York Yankees LHP CC Sabathia, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.