Like a kid on a carnival ride, rookie Jose Fernandez doesn’t want his first season in the majors to stop, doesn’t want to step off the ride. But stop it will after he makes one final start Wednesday at Marlins Park.
“It’s almost done,” Fernandez said on the eve of his last trip to the mound. “I’m looking at it, like, already? I’ve got to go home already? It flew by, and I don’t want to go home. I want to play another month.”
The Marlins, not wanting to take any chances with their talented 21-year-old, are shutting Fernandez down for the season. They vowed at the start of the year they would not let him throw more than 170 innings, and they’re sticking to that edict.
One way or other, Fernandez said the season has turned out a whole lot better than he could have ever imagined.
“What were my expectations?” Fernandez replied to a question. “Start in Double A. Play half of the year there. And get to the big leagues after the All-Star game. But it came out a little better than that.”
Did it ever.
Fernandez was picked to the All-Star team and continued to turn it on after that, emerging into a leading contender -- if not the favorite -- to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. He’ll likely end up finishing among the top vote-getters for the Cy Young Award, too.
“I’ve got one more start, and then I’ve got a lot of time to think about stuff,” he said of any postseason honors that might be bestowed upon him.
Fernandez hopes to put a exclamation point on his outstanding rookie campaign with a win over the Braves. He put his perfect home record on the line (he’s 8-0 in 14 starts at Marlins Park), and then spend the rest of the season in the dugout, watching his teammates.
“It hasn’t really kicked in that it’s my last start,” said Fernandez, who expects more than 30 friends and family members to drive over from Tampa for the game. “It’s not like I’m going to hold back. Normally I never do that. But tomorrow I’m going to give everything I’ve got.”
One of Fernandez's mischievous teammates pulled a prank on him before batting practice Tuesday, coating the inside of his hat brim with eye black. When Fernandez placed the hat squarely on his head, his forehead was smudged in black.
"This one was a pretty good one," Fernandez said. "Everybody was looking at me and laughing, and I was, like, 'What's wrong? What's wrong? What's wrong?' And then someone told me. That's fine. I get it."
Chris Coghlan is the first Marlin to openly admit that the prospect of losing 100 games would be, to say the least, "embarrassing." The Marlins must go 10-10 or better over their final 20 games (including tonight's) to avoid a 100-loss season.
"You don't want to lose 100 as a team, so you're doing everything you can not to lose 100," Coghlan said. "It's embarrassing when you lose 100. I think we (need) 10 more wins to make sure we're not at 100, so that's the goal for the team."
Coghlan was also candid in his self-assessment, saying the final 20 games are more or less a "tryout" for him, at least in the eyes of the Marlins, who are trying to decide how he'll figure into the equation in 2014. Coghlan will still have minor-league options remaining after this season, so the Marlins won't be forced into making a decision. But they'd like to see if he can play third base, or as someone who can float from one position to another.
"For me individually, every game they're evaluating me, so I don't take any game lightly," Coghlan said. "I'm not counting the days down, even as bad as it's been here for me. It's a tryout everyday. It's a tryout at a new position. I'm excited to just finish this year strong and see where we're at next year."
With a 4 for 4 night at the plate on Monday, Coghlan raised his average on the season to .283. He's clearly swinging the bat with more authority and acknowledged that his confidence is much higher now than it was when he was struggling after two injury-riddled seasons.
"There's no doubt, when you suck, your confidence goes down, I don't care who you are," Coghlan said. "You're human. There's doubt that comes in. I'm getting back to playing consistently. It's like it used to be. I feel like now I'll be even better because I've learned stuff. I've gotten older. I've seen different pitchers more often. I think it's only going to be up (from now on).
"Every game matters up here. Everybody's trying to take bread off your table, and everybody's trying to shove it down your throat. So it's either you shove it down their's, or they've going to shove it down yours. I hope that we can take that tenacity out on the field and be consistent."
As expected, the Marlins juggled the rotation a bit to buy a bit of extra rest for struggling starter Jacob Turner. He'll now make his next start on Sunday in New York. Brian Flynn will make his second big league start on Friday at Citi Field. Henderson Alvarez and Brad Hand will pitch the two games of the doubleheader on Saturday.
Manager Mike Redmond said the plan now is for Flynn to take Fernandez's spot in the rotation, but didn't rule out Hand as a possibility, either.