MIAMI — The story being pitched seemed too good to be true.
Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez had taken the mound Friday night against the Washington Nationals knowing it likely would be his next-to-last start of the season due to a team-imposed innings cap.
With Washington’s only base runner through the first five innings coming on a walk, was Fernandez scripting a no-hitter? Would he put on such a untouchable performance as to make having another start next week unnecessary?
Wouldn’t that be a perfect way to complete his first big-league season?
And with the National League Rookie of the Year Award likely in tow.
To good to be true? Yes.
Zach Walters, in his first major league plate appearance, broke up Fernandez’s no-hitter with an approximately 70-foot squib infield single with one out in the sixth.
This wasn’t just a cheap hit, it was a cruel one.
“I’m sure (Walters will) remember that, and I’m sure Jose will remember that next time he faces him,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.
Logan Morrison (467 feet) and Giancarlo Stanton (403) each belted no-doubt homers, but Fernandez’s domination was the story in Miami’s 7-0 victory. The only Nationals player to reach base through five innings was Adam Laroche on a two-out walk in the fifth.
Fernandez admitted he started thinking about a no-no in the fourth inning.
“I walked in and (Placido) Polanco goes by and says, ‘Let’s get that no-hitter,’ ” Fernandez said. “I started laughing.”
Not every Marlins player was chuckling while in the field when Fernandez faced Washington’s order the second time around.
“I’m just worried about making sure I’m catching anything in my vicinity,” right fielder Stanton said, “and then I have to see a spinning crap down the third-base line to break it up.”
When Walters was announced as a pinch hitter for reliever Erik Davis, Fernandez turned toward the Marlins Park Jumbotron.
“I looked to see how he was hitting, and I saw all zeroes on the board,” Fernandez said. “This was his first time in the big leagues.”
Walters, a switch-hitter batting lefty, topped a ball that rolled slowly down the third-base line. An on-rushing Polanco had no chance to field and throw out Walters, so he let the ball continue to see if it would go foul.
It stopped on the grass for the only hit Fernandez surrendered in his seven innings.
The Marlins right-hander yelled into his glove while walked off at inning’s end.
“I was just laughing … in English,” Fernandez said before fessing up. “When I say something I’m not supposed to say, I talk English because to me, it doesn’t sound that bad.”
Fernandez, who walked two and struck out nine, improved to 11-6 with a 2.23 ERA. More impressively, he’s 8-0 with a 1.19 ERA in 14 home starts.
“It’s like when you go to your house and you sleep in your bed after not having done it for a long time,” he said of Marlins Park.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson before the game, and MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac on Twitter during it, are among those who said Fernandez should be the National League Rookie of the Year. The Marlins have started using #JOSE4ROY on social media.
For what it’s worth,Jose Fernandez of the #marlins might be the best pitcher in baseball right now. Slam dunk NL ROY choice. Special talent.
Fernandez now has pitched 165 2/3 innings in his rookie season. With the team’s self-imposed limit at 170, that would seem to leave 4 1/3 innings for the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday.
“He will make that start,” Redmond said. “We will probably gather, hopefully together, and figure out a a gameplan for exactly what’s going to go on.”
While it’s hard to argue with the move, the Marlins will be shutting down a pitcher who has been pitching the best he has all season.
Redmond noticed a change in the Cuban kid immediately after the All-Star Game at Citi Field, where Fernandez pitched a perfect inning with two strikeouts.
“That was huge for him and his confidence,” Redmond said. “To be able to pitch in that game and, in his mind, maybe took him to the next level ‘Hey, I can compete and pitch against the best.’ Because he’s really gone back from that game and took it to another level.”