It figured to be a bad night for Jose Fernandez and the Marlins when Ramon Cabrera — a 5-8 journeyman catcher for the Reds — lofted a curveball into the bleachers for a three-run homer.
Over the course of his professional career, Cabrera has averaged less than one home run for every 100 at-bats. But there he was Thursday night, circling the bases in the second inning of a 5-4 Reds victory.
Two innings later, Fernandez was finished.
Making his first start following a 10-day layoff, Fernandez was hit hard by the last-place Reds, who took three out of four in the series by winning the last three games. It marked only the fifth time in his 70 big-league starts that Fernandez failed to make it past the fourth.
“I didn’t give my team a chance to win today, and I’m not happy about it,” Fernandez said. “Obviously, very disappointed in the way that I came out today and how I let my teammates down.”
It was an ominous sign for the pitching-challenged Marlins, who have lost ground in the wild-card race this month by going 5-11 in August.
Fernandez was coming off his second scheduled break of the season, one designed to preserve his arm and ensure he continues pitching all the way to the end. He had a live fastball, which was topping out in the high 90s. At one point, the scoreboard reading on one of his fastballs registered 100.
But the Reds seemed to have no trouble hitting it, or any other pitch.
“He had velocity, for sure,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “They were obviously squaring a lot of stuff up, even the outs. It looked like the balls were kind of belt line. You throw the ball belt line, you’re going to get hit.”
Fernandez gave up seven hits along with a number of hard-hit outs.
When Adeiny Hechavarria singled with one out in the fifth, Mattingly decided to lift Fernandez for a pinch-hitter in a bid to put runs on the board.
“You’re down ‘X’ amount of runs — you’re down five runs at that point — if we had two outs and nobody on, I would have let him hit,” Mattingly said.
Fernandez wasn’t thrilled with his early dismissal, saying he was “very surprised” by Mattingly’s decision to take him out. Fernandez had thrown only 65 pitches at that point, his lowest total of any of his starts this season.
After Cabrera’s surprise homer, Fernandez gave up two more runs in the third. Billy Hamilton singled to start the inning before advancing to second after a walk to Joey Votto. When Brandon Phillips lined out to center, the speedy Hamilton decided to test Marcell Ozuna’s throwing arm and tagged up to go to third.
Ozuna’s throw got by Martin Prado. And with Fernandez failing to back Prado up, the ball bounced toward the dugout and Hamilton ended up scoring. One batter later, Eugenio Suarez doubled to drive in another run.
“He’s got to be there,” Mattingly said of Fernandez failing to back up third on the throw. “He’s not the only guy who hasn’t backed up a base for us this year. We’ve seen it different times. That’s a play the pitcher has to be there.”
Fernandez accepted fault.
“I was late, so that’s my fault,” Fernandez said. “Just a very bad all-around performance today.”
The Marlins were quiet offensively.
Ozuna homered off Reds starter Dan Straily with a man aboard in the sixth, and the Marlins added two runs in the seventh due in large part to a throwing error by pitcher Jumbo Diaz.
But that was it.
▪ With two hits Thursday, Ichiro Suzuki raised his career major-league total to 3,007, tying him with Al Kaline for 28th on the all-time list.