MIAMI – Now a full-time spectator for the rest of the season after reaching his team-imposed innings limit, pitcher Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins sat quietly behind the dugout railing Thursday as his team lost 6-1 to the Atlanta Braves.
He didn’t lead cheers, help the bat boy or lobby to pinch run. He merely sat and watched.
The new Jose? Maybe. Manager Mike Redmond wants the rookie right-hander to tone down his exuberant behavior, and said the Atlanta Braves had a legitimate grievance with Fernandez’s behavior, which led to a bench-clearing confrontation during his final start of the season Wednesday night.
The Braves were unhappy Fernandez stood at home plate admiring his home run, then spat toward Chris Johnson while rounding third base. The Braves also were annoyed Fernandez reacted with a cocky grin when he gave up a homer to Evan Gattis, then stared toward the Braves’ bench at the end of the inning.
Redmond sided with the Braves.
“Jose is an emotional guy,” Redmond said Thursday. “That’s part of his game that is going to improve. We don’t want to take the ‘having fun’ aspect away from him. That’s what makes him him. But at the same time I think maybe he can center that a little bit. That might be a part of his game he needs to look at, and maybe try to do something different.”
After the game, Fernandez apologized for his behavior. Lost in the furor was another fine outing.
He allowed one run in seven innings Wednesday to help Miami win, 5-2. Fernandez, 21, finished the year 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, the second-lowest in the majors behind only Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
He struck out 187 in 1722/3 innings and won’t pitch again because the Marlins set a 170-inning limit for him this year.
“He’s going to be one of the top pitchers in this league for a long time,” Redmond said, “but you want your players to be judged for the way they compete, not for the theatrics.”
Fernandez has been demonstrative all season. He’s quick to lead cheers in the dugout or strike up a conversation with an opposing player. When he stepped to the plate to bat for the first time Wednesday, he greeted Braves catcher Brian McCann with a handshake.
But his demeanor has sometimes rubbed opponents the wrong way, and the Braves were particularly miffed by his showboating after his first major league homer. As he crossed the plate, McCann scolded him for the display, which led both benches and bullpens to clear.
While Fernandez is popular with his teammates, the consensus in the clubhouse was he had gone too far.
“Jose is a great pitcher, he is very competitive, but he let this one get out of hand,” closer Steve Cishek said. “He’s going to learn from it. I can pretty much guarantee it will never happen again, the way he is. He’s a good kid.”
Atlanta Manager Fredi Gonzalez attributed Fernandez’s behavior to immaturity.
“He’s a playful guy,” Gonzalez said. “He likes to have fun on the mound and we like to have fun, too. If he’s going to play that way, which is fine, he shouldn’t get upset when we hit a home run and have fun ourselves.”
After the game, a chastened Fernandez said he had gotten carried away amid the emotions of his final game. He sought out McCann and Braves pitcher Mike Minor and apologized to them.
“I thought the way he handled it was perfect,” Redmond said. “And we’re moving on. It was a learning experience. Unfortunately what gets overshadowed is the year he has had, and how great he has been. We should be talking about him for Rookie of the Year instead.”
In the aftermath of the episode, Redmond drew criticism from some baseball pundits for not supporting his player.
“If you’re only watching two clips of that game, I could see how they could say whatever,” Redmond said.
“But if you’re around here and in this clubhouse every day We’re a young team. We’re 30-some games under .500. We’re teaching guys to respect the game and play the game the right way. I think it’s a teaching moment for Josie. And he understands where I’m coming from.”