Jose Fernandez’s 27th career start at Marlins Park began like many of his first 26 did.
The Marlins’ 23-year-old flamethrower struck out the side in the top of the first against Detroit, fanning Ian Kinsler on a 98-mile-per-hour high fastball before retiring Justin Upton and former Marlin Miguel Cabrera on curveballs in the dirt.
In the second inning, however, Fernandez went off script, allowing a two-run homer to former Marlin Jarrod Saltalamacchia on an 0-2 pitch.
Saltalamacchia drove in four runs and did most of Detroit’s damage at the plate, while the Marlin hitters struggled to solve former teammate Anibal Sanchez, mustering only four hits against the starter in a 7-3 loss on Wednesday.
The defeat was Fernandez’s first ever at Marlins Park. He set the major-league record with a 26-start home unbeaten streak to begin his career and entered his first start of 2016 with a 17-0 career home record and a 1.40 career home ERA.
“I felt great,” Fernandez said of his first start of the season. “I felt like I was making good pitches … the result was not what I wanted. We’ve got to turn the page and get ready for our next game.”
Fernandez settled down after Saltalamacchia’s second-inning blast, retiring 11 of the next 12 batters, before running into trouble again in the sixth. He left the game with two outs in the top of the sixth, and Saltalamacchia greeted reliever Dustin McGowan by smacking his 0-2 fastball off the right-field wall for a two-run double.
“He probably didn’t get it down where he wanted to, and I was able to do something with it,” Saltalamacchia said of his homer off Fernandez, who he caught eight times with the Marlins.
“Good pitch, better swing,” Fernandez said of Saltalamacchia’s homer. “I tip my cap when that happens.”
Fernandez allowed five earned runs over 5 2/3 innings, striking out 13. The 13 punchouts marked the 10th double-digit strikeout performance of his career and were one shy of his career high.
Sanchez was not as overpowering as Fernandez, but the former Marlin was more effective, allowing two runs and four hits in five-plus innings of work.
The Tigers starter said he didn’t feel any extra emotion facing his former team for the second time.
“Those guys know what they have to do,” Sanchez said of the Marlins. “We were on the same team for a while, I know them and they know me. … I’m just thinking what I have to do for a win.”
Detroit got two insurance runs in the eighth when Victor Martinez crushed his second pitch-hit homer of the series, a two-run shot to left-center off reliever Chris Narveson. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Martinez is the first player since 1900 to hit a pinch-hit home run in each of his team’s first two games.
Miami made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth, scoring a run on a Derek Dietrich pinch-hit RBI single to cut Detroit’s lead to 7-3 and loading the bases with two outs. But Tiger closer Francisco Rodriguez struck out Giancarlo Stanton to preserve the victory.
Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon completed a torrid two-game series at the plate, going 3 for 5 on Wednesday with three singles. Gordon has six hits in his first 11 at-bats of the season.
The Marlins, who have lost their first two games of the season for the second year in a row, begin their first road trip of 2016 on Thursday afternoon in Washington. Left-hander Adam Conley, who is scheduled to make his first start of the year for the Marlins, will face Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark in Washington’s home opener.