- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Well, I certainly hope so, because Jose Fernandez was absolutely dealing on this particular Tuesday night. It's hard to imagine Fernandez or any pitcher looking much more dominant than he did, although Alex Wood certainly tried.
Fernandez tied his career high with 14 strikeouts in the Marlins' 1-0 win over the Braves, walked nobody, took a one-hitter into the eighth inning before giving up two more hits (one of them a chopper off the plate) and twice fanned Freddie Freeman -- who had struck out just 10 times in 19 games entering this contest -- on swinging strikes. He fanned Freeman on a curveball and four-seam fastball. He got Jason Heyward to end the sixth on that disappearing slider of his. He got Justin Upton to end the seventh on a 96 mph "hit it if you can" fastball. He blew away Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis six times in six at-bats.
The one chance the Braves had against the 21-year-old phenom came in the eighth. Chris Johnson led off with a line single to right and Fernandez fanned Uggla and Gattis. But Andrelton Simmons reached on that infield single to bring up pinch hitter Ryan Doumit. Fernandez had worked quickly all game long: Throw strike, get ball, throw another strike. With only one baserunner until the eighth, he had worked almost entirely from the windup. Now he took a little more time between pitches, took a deep breath and walked around the mound. He was over 100 pitches by now. With one strike, he threw a meaty 95 mph fastball down the middle. That was Atlanta's one opportunity, the one pitch Fernandez missed on this night; but Doumit fouled it off. Two pitches later, he tapped weakly back to Fernandez.
After 109 pitches, Fernandez was gone, and it was probably the right move. He let it all out in those final pitches to Doumit. Steve Cishek closed it out with a one-two-three ninth -- the last a third strikeout for Freeman -- to notch his 33rd save in a row.
Fernandez improved to 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA, with a Game Score of 90, the highest of his young career. For the second straight start, Wood was a tough-luck "loser" in a 1-0 game. He allowed four hits and one run in eight innings with 11 strikeouts and no walks. His awkward, herky-jerky delivery from the left side isn't pretty and he doesn't throw as hard as Fernandez, but nothing he throws is straight and he moves up and down the zone. He's tough and I'm guessing batters have a hard time with his unique delivery. His fastball has a natural tail away from right-handed batters and they're hitting just .202 off him this season. He mixes in a curve and changeup and so far he's thrown strikes, with just seven walks in five starts. He's 2-3, but his 1.54 ERA is even lower than Fernandez's and he's one of the reasons Braves starters have allowed two earned runs or fewer in 19 of 20 games.
How good of a duel was it? Maybe the best one we'll end up seeing all season. Wood's Game Score was 81. Last season, we had just three games where both starters posted a Game Score of 80 or more: Kris Medlen-Cliff Lee (who beat Wood the other day), Francisco Liriano-Stephen Strasburg and Jose Quintana-Justin Masterson. But none of those three games matched the combined Game Score of 171 of this one. The last game to score that high with both starters at 80 or higher was in August of 2012, when Luke Hochevar (87) and David Price (84) both tossed eight scoreless innings and allowed a combined four hits. Matt Cain (85) and Lee (86) also had a combined 171 in April of that year. The last game with a higher Game Score featured Josh Beckett (86) and Jeff Niemann (86) in July of 2011. Both went eight scoreless innings as Beckett allowed one hit, Niemann two. (The game ended up 1-0 in 16 innings as the teams went a combined 8-for-102.)
So maybe this game will prove to be the best duel of the season. It's going to be hard to top 25 strikeouts, no walks and seven hits allowed from the starters.
Then again, the Marlins and Braves are in the same division. They even meet again next week in Miami. Can we get a rematch?
"I think it'd be fair to say that that was his best start in terms of stuff and command," - @mredmond55 on @josefernandez77— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) April 23, 2014 Well, I certainly hope so, because Jose Fernandez was absolutely dealing on this particular Tuesday night.