Treading line between passion and professionalism
MIAMI — Pitching with passion and emotion is a big part of Jose Fernandez’s game.
The energy, enthusiasm and excitement have made the 21-year-old one of the most dynamic pitchers in the big leagues.
To the Marlins, the rookie phenom has been their standout performer in an otherwise forgetful last-place season.
When he pitches, he raises the intensity level and makes the casual fan take notice.
As we saw on Wednesday night, the entire package that makes Jose Fernandez who he is can also rub othe opposition the wrong way.
The Braves certainly respect Fernandez’s immense skill set on the mound, but they take issue with some of his other antics.
The antics being, the way Fernandez smiles and reacts after yielding a hit. The perception that he may glare when getting a big out. Apparently that was the case, at least from the Braves’ vantage point, after Justin Upton was retired on a fly out.
Tensions bubbled up in the top of the sixth inning of Miami’s 5-2 win over Atlanta. Evan Gattis homered, stared in Fernandez’s direction, and the intensity level was about to rise.
TV replays showed Fernandez and Chris Johnson exchanging some words after a line out to left field.
In the bottom of the sixth, Fernandez crossed the line by flinging his bat and admiring his home run of Mike Minor before he circled the bases. Replays also showed Johnson and Fernandez each spitting in the direction of the ground as the Marlins rookie rounded third base.
Atlanta catcher Brian McCann had some words with Fernandez as he crossed home plate, and the benches cleared. After a few minutes of shoving, order was restored. There were no ejections, but warnings were issued.
Afterward, Marlins manager Mike Redmond expressed his displeasure with Fernandez’s reaction. Fernandez called his behavior “embarrassing.”
Bottom line from Miami’s point of view is the team is firmly in last place, has a bunch of young players still learning the game. The club has no reason to over celebrate anything.
The Marlins also want Fernandez to control his emotions, and take the high road.
Many are wondering why this escalated?
Fernandez has faced Atlanta twice. The first being at Turner Field on Aug. 30. The Miami rookie that day yielded a first-inning, two-run homer to Freddie Freeman, and the Braves held on to a 2-1 win.
Before that start, Fernandez was interacting pregame with a number of Atlanta players. He developed a friendship with Freeman and McCann at the All-Star Game.
During that game, Fernandez exchanged some playful words with Freeman after his home run and double. Basically, when Freeman was on second base, Fernandez turned and asked, “How can I get you out?”
Nothing was made of the light exchange.
Also Fernandez had a 14-pitch showdown with McCann, who kept fouling off pitches, before striking out. In the middle of the sequence, Fernandez was talking with McCann.
After that game, Fernandez said: “First of all, he’s my friend. It was fun, a 14-pitch at-bat. I’m throwing him every pitch that I have. I was like, ‘Hey, what can I throw you?'”
Again, no big deal, and the Braves won.
In the postgame interview, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Fernandez: “He reminds me of a guy that is pitching in his backyard. He’s having fun. He’s competing and he’s confident in his pitches. Why not? They’re pretty darn good.”
Move forward to Miami this week. On Tuesday, the day before Fernandez pitched, the Braves were taking the field for batting practice. A number of Braves, including former Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, had a friendly interaction with Fernandez. A number of Atlanta coaches also offered handshakes and hugs.
All was well.
Then on Wednesday, Fernandez had some smiles with Freeman. But a few innings later, Fernandez’s antics were not well received.
“I know Justin crushed a ball and it got caught,” Johnson said. “[Fernandez] was watching him go back to the dugout smiling and stuff like that. I think that was why Gattis was a little upset.
“The kid is a good pitcher,” Johnson said. “He’s got some other stuff going on too that upsets people sometimes.”
Bottom line is Fernandez’s passion can work both ways.
Following Wednesday’s game, Gonzalez noted youth may have been a problem.
“He’s a playful guy on the mound. He likes to have fun,” the Braves manager said. “We like to have fun, too. If he’s going to play that playfulness game, then he shouldn’t get upset when we hit a home run and have fun ourselves. It’s boys being boys after that.”
— Joe Frisaro