MIAMI — Nearly two hours before Jose Fernandez took the Marlins Park mound on Friday night, Cleveland manager Terry Francona was asked about the Marlins’ young ace.
“We hope he doesn’t have his best stuff tonight, because we want to win,” Francona said while sitting in the Indians dugout.
“He’s very impressive. He’s got all the weapons — hopefully we don’t see them tonight. But there’s a lot to like.”
Those comments were based solely on video.
A few hours later, Francona described what he saw first-hand in the interleague meeting: Fernandez allowing three hits and striking out a career-high 14 in eight innings as the Marlins defeated the Indians 10-0.
“Unfortunately for us, that’s as good a start as I think we’ve seen all year,” Francona said. “He had everything, and thankfully, he’s in the National League.
“He wasn’t just throwing. He was pitching with not a lot of effort. The velocity, breaking ball — you hate to say it — you try to beat him but when all is said and done you look back, that was an unbelievable start.”
Five days earlier, Fernandez struck out 13 Pittsburgh Pirates in eight innings. He’s now the first pitcher to throw consecutive games of 13 or more strikeouts since Randy Johnson in 2004 and the first rookie to do so since Kerry Wood in 1998.
The 14 strikeouts against Cleveland were the most by a rookie pitcher since Washington’s Stephen Strasburg fanned 14 on June 8, 2010.
“I’m going to enjoy it tonight, and then tomorrow get back to work, because up here (the majors) things can change and the game can get you pretty quick,” said Fernandez, who walked off the mound to a standing ovation after the eighth inning. “And I don’t want it to get me.”
The way he has been pitching, that seems unlikely.
“He’s not afraid to be great,” Miami’s Logan Morrison said of his teammate.
Fernandez, who contributed a sacrifice fly in the third, was lifted for a pinch hitter during Miami’s five-run eighth. Until that time, the Marlins’ lead only seemed like double digits for most of the night because of who was pitching in white.
“You feel like if you score two runs, you’re going to win,” said Morrison, who had four hits in a 16-hit Marlins attack. “When he came out against the Pirates in the first inning and hit 99 (mph) a couple of times, it was like, ‘All we need is one run. Let’s get him one.’ “
The Marlins outdid themselves in scoring Friday night, plating three in the first and building a 5-0 cushion through three innings.
Nick Swisher’s first-inning single was the Indians’ only hit until Asdrubal Cabrera doubled in the seventh.
Morrison greeted Swisher at first base.
“He’s like, ‘This guy throws hard,’ ” LoMo said. “I said, ‘Yeah, and you haven’t seen the slider yet, so watch out.’ “
Fernandez, who turned 21 on Wednesday, improved to 8-5 with a 2.54 ERA. Since his dominating 1-2-3 All-Star Game inning (with two strikeouts), the Cuban defector is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in three starts.
Oh, and his second-half strikeout-walk total is 35-3 — 35-3!
“I’m really just trying to make good pitches,” said Fernandez, who said he relied on catcher Jeff Mathis and his knowledge of the American League team. “I’m not trying to strike people out. I’m not going out there saying ‘I gotta strike out 20 or strike out more than I did last time.’ “
One former major leaguer cringed at the idea of stepping in the box against the right-hander.
“I would have a challenge,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “I would probably go to the ballpark hoping I wasn’t play that day, because he’s tough.”
The Marlins have said Fernandez will be limited to about 170 innings as a rookie — he’s now at 127.2. If he keeps throwing eight innings per start, that’ll leave five more appearances in 2013.
If Fernandez maintains his season average of six innings per, that leaves seven starts.
It appears safe to say people won’t be seeing Miami’s No. 16 pitch this season after Sept. 10 or so.
“That’s a reality,” Redmond said of the team’s pitch limit. “We’re all just watching this kid go out and pitch, and when that comes, it comes.
“At the same time, I don’t think any of us anticipated him going seven, eight with his starts. But he’s gone out there and continued to improve, and man, what a pitcher.”