Fernandez outduels Hamels in Phillies' loss to Marlins

Fernandez outduels Hamels in Phillies' loss to Marlins
May 4, 2013, 11:30 pm
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His idol is Cliff Lee. His opponent was Cole Hamels. And yet 20-year-old Marlins rookie right-hander Jose Fernandez did something on Saturday night against the Phillies neither of those perennial all-stars has ever done: He pitched seven scoreless innings, put two men on base and struck out nine.

The result was a 2-0 loss that dropped the Phillies to 14-17 and prevented a potential home sweep over a Miami team filled with over-the-hill vets and players who were ticketed for Double A before its latest fire sale (see Instant Replay).

It was a miserable performance for the ages. The Phillies had three baserunners all night. They hadn’t been one-hit in 386 regular-season games prior to Saturday. It was the third time in the last 16 years the Phils mustered just one hit and three or fewer baserunners.

“Their guy was real good,” manager Charlie Manuel said of Fernandez. “He was aggressive, coming right at us. ... He’s got really good stuff.”

“He mixed up his pitches well the whole night,” added Domonic Brown, one of nine hitless position players. “I know I got ahead in the count and he was still throwing his off-speed pitches where he wanted to throw them and was catching us out front.”

Even Hamels, who had a brilliant night of his own, couldn’t help but gush over the Marlins’ top prospect-turned ... ace?

“He’s really impressive,” Hamels said. “He’s going to be a really great pitcher for a really long time. He definitely came up early and he’s going to learn how to pitch – if he doesn’t already know how to. He’s got a power heater, power curveball, pretty good changeup.

“He’s not afraid, and I think that’s ultimately what separates him. He’s not afraid to throw any pitch at any time, and he challenges hitters. That’s going to help him out in the long run, and he’s going to put up some pretty good numbers in his career.”

The Phillies put up some pretty ugly numbers on Saturday. Freddy Galvis had a hit and a walk, but Fernandez retired 17 batters in a row in between. As a team, the Phils were 1 for 28 with 12 strikeouts. Phils not named Galvis were 0 for 25 and got on base once -- in the ninth inning.

It was such a weak performance that the team batting average dropped from .246 to .240, which is precipitous given that it’s in over 1,000 at-bats.

The offense wasted a fine performance by Hamels, who appears to be in a groove after early struggles. Hamels allowed two more solo homers but just four hits all night. He had no walks for the first time in 16 starts and retired 17 of the final 18 batters he faced. Hamels has a 2.31 ERA over his last five starts. And yet he’s 1-4 this season.

“It sucks. It sucks,” Brown said. “As hitters, we’re trying our hardest to produce runs for Cole. He pitched a heck of a ball game. ... But that’s baseball. That’s going to happen. We’ve got to go out tomorrow, fresh new start and keep our heads up and keep swinging.”

Keep swinging is one idea. Taking a few pitches might be another. Fernandez worked ahead all night, but the Phillies also swung at 16 pitches outside the strike zone, according to Pitch F/X data found at BrooksBaseball.net.
The poor results were a mixture of Fernandez's having his best stuff and the Phillies' helping him out when he was missing.

“I don’t think so,” Fernandez said when asked if there was something about this lineup that is conducive to success for him. (The Phillies are now 3 for 42 off him in two games.) “They’re a great lineup. They've got some great hitters that I respect a lot.”

Manuel and Brown thought Fernandez’s power curve had more “bite” and “tilt” Saturday than it had on April 13. Fernandez disagreed.

“I was just throwing it in good counts, good location,” he said. “[Catcher Miguel] Olivo called a great game. I can’t describe how good it was, and how fast. The tempo was good, you didn’t think about it two times.”

When you hear Fernandez talk tempo, when you see him throw strike after strike and work quick innings, you understand why he idolizes Lee, who he met Friday through mutual friend Juan Pierre.

“He's a great guy,” Fernandez said of Lee. “I was still happy I got to meet him yesterday, and to me, it’s still incredible. Even in the eighth inning, I was sitting in the dugout going crazy. I was thinking, ‘Damn, what a great guy.’ I can’t wait to see him pitch. I’ve never seen him pitch in person. I’m pretty impatient.”

Can the Phillies be patient with this inconsistent an offense? They've been shut out five times in their last 17 games. They lost to the Marlins Saturday, but they've had the benefit of beating them four of six times this season. Before heading out west to San Francisco and Arizona, the Phils need to pick up another win over the 9-22 Marlins on Sunday. Roy Halladay (2-3, 6.75) opposes Kevin Slowey (0-2, 2.15).

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