NEW YORK (AP) — Eight strikeouts, excellent control and plenty of poise on the mound. The only thing missing from Jose Fernandez’s impressive major league debut was the win that slipped away.
Marlon Byrd grounded a two-run single just inside third base in the bottom of the ninth inning and New York rallied against Miami Marlins closer Steve Cishek for a 4-3 victory Sunday.
Daniel Murphy homered and Anthony Recker had a run-scoring double for the Mets, who spoiled a strong first start by Miami’s prized pitching prospect.
“I was more nervous watching five through nine than when I was pitching,” Fernandez said.
Justin Ruggiano, Chris Valaika and Donovan Solano (three hits) each had an RBI double off starter Aaron Laffey to give the Marlins an early 3-0 cushion. Cishek (0-1) was unable to hold a one-run lead, though, and Miami dropped to 1-5 heading into its home opener Monday night against Atlanta.
Miami outhit the Mets 13-6 but went 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 overall.
“We had so many opportunities,” rookie manager Mike Redmond said. “It’s a tough loss. Fernandez pitched great. He deserved to win the game.”
The 20-year-old Fernandez, who had never been above Class A, gave up one run and three hits in five innings. He walked one and set a Marlins record for strikeouts by a pitcher in his big league debut.
“We’ve all talked a lot about what he could do and what he is capable of, and I think today he showed it. It was a huge test, and a great first outing for him,” Redmond said. “I’m not surprised. The difference between him and other young pitchers is his command of his secondary pitches, how he works on the mound, and his confidence.”
Cishek retired his first batter in the ninth before Ruben Tejada was hit by a pitch. Pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled to left-center and Tejada aggressively dashed to third against Juan Pierre’s weak arm. Nieuwenhuis moved up to second on the throw.
Byrd, who entered in a fifth-inning double switch, pulled a grounder just beyond the reach of a diving Valaika and down the left field line. Both runners scored easily and Byrd was mobbed by excited teammates after his first game-ending hit since a grand slam for Texas against the New York Yankees on Aug. 4, 2008.
“It’s all on me,” Cishek said. “It’s my job to go in there and shut it all down.”
Five relievers combined to throw 4 2-3 scoreless innings for the Mets.
Scott Rice (1-0) worked a scoreless ninth for his first big league win after 14 seasons in the minors. New York took two of three from the Marlins and has won its first two series for only the second time in 11 years.
Recker had an RBI double in the fifth, his first hit for the Mets, but Fernandez fanned Byrd and retired Collin Cowgill on a popup to leave the game with a 3-1 lead after 80 pitches.
“It’s one start, but you can see where the potential is,” Pierre said. “He looked like he had been there before.”
Miami plans to keep Fernandez on a pitch count all season and limit him to 150-170 innings.
“That fastball, curveball, slider and changeup command was amazing. He’s going to be a good one,” Byrd predicted, saying Fernandez reminded him of Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. “He’s one of those guys if he’s on, it really doesn’t matter if you’ve seen him or not. He’s going to be electric.”
Murphy greeted A.J. Ramos with a leadoff homer to center in the sixth, his second of the series after hitting six last season. Fill-in first baseman Greg Dobbs made a sprawling play later in the inning to keep Miami ahead.
Pitching with his parents in the stands, Fernandez flashed a mid-90s mph fastball and showed advanced command of his sharp breaking ball. He retired his first 10 batters, striking out five, before Murphy lined a single to center.
“That guy’s got good stuff,” Murphy said. “I thought we stayed patient.”
Fernandez, the youngest pitcher in club history, came to the United States by boat as a Cuban refugee in 2008. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound right-hander was selected 14th overall out of his Tampa, Fla., high school in the 2011 amateur draft — one pick after the Mets went for outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who is with Class A Savannah in the South Atlantic League.
Fernandez was 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA in the low minors last season. He went to spring training this year with the Marlins but got reassigned to minor league camp March 13 and was ticketed for Double-A Jacksonville before injuries to Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi left two holes in the rotation.
Just before the season opener, Fernandez became a surprise addition to the roster, making him the youngest pitcher on a major league squad on opening day, according to STATS. He left 15 tickets for family and friends to attend his anticipated debut.
“It didn’t feel any different,” Fernandez said. “It was no different than the spring training games.”
NOTES: Marlins 3B Placido Polanco was rested for the first time this season. “We talked about it all spring: We need him for the long haul,” Redmond said. “He means a lot to this team, we’ve got to take care of him. We don’t want to overdo it.” Valaika started at third, his first big league game since Sept. 11, 2011, with Cincinnati. … With shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and Fernandez both in the lineup, it marked the first time the Marlins had two Cuban-born players on the field at the same time. … RHP Kevin Slowey gets the ball for Miami’s home opener Monday night.