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The Strike Zone

Jose Fernandez brilliant again in 14-strikeout performance vs. Braves

Jose FernandezJose Fernandez came within an inning of his first career shutout on Tuesday. (John Bazemore/AP)

At some point, you run out of superlatives for Jose Fernandez, which is a frightening thought given that Tuesday night's start against Atlanta was just the 33rd of his major league career. Nonetheless, age and experience clearly aren't a factor for the Marlins' electric right-hander, who thoroughly dominated the Braves on the road in a 1-0 Miami win. Fernandez racked up a career-high 14 strikeouts over eight scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and no walks, in one of the best performances of the young season.

Though Fernandez was never close to a no-hitter or a perfect game—Atlanta led the bottom of the first inning off with a line-drive single off the bat of Jason Heyward—he was all but untouchable for the majority of the night. After Heyward's single, Fernandez got B.J. Upton to ground into a double play, then kept the Braves off the basepaths until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Upton reached first on an error by third baseman Casey McGehee. A balk moved Upton to second base–the first time all game a Braves baserunner had gotten that far–but Fernandez got swinging strikeouts from Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton to end the threat.

Atlanta didn't pick up its second hit until the bottom of the eighth, when Chris Johnson blooped a single into rightfield. The Braves mounted their biggest threat of the game in that inning; after Johnson reached and was pinch-run for by Tyler Pastornicky, Fernandez struck out Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis, then gave up a single to Andrelton Simmons. With two on and two out, Fernandez faced pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit and got him to tap a weak groundball back to the mound, ending the inning. At 109 pitches, Fernandez wasn't allowed to go for the shutout, which would have been the first of his career; instead, Miami manager Mike Redmond went to closer Steve Cishek, who pitched a perfect ninth to finish the 1-0 victory.

Going predominantly to his four-seamer, slider and curveball (a combined 104 of his 109 pitches), Fernandez ruthlessly carved up Atlanta's hitters, drawing a ludicrous 26 swings-and-misses on the night. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Fernandez's fastball, which usually sits at 95 mph, averaged 97.3 mph on Tuesday night, hitting a max of 100.6. In between Atlanta's first and second hits, Fernandez retired 20 of 21 hitters faced, 12 by strikeout. He struck out the side in back-to-back innings, the fourth and fifth, and got nine strikeouts in nine at-bats against Justin Upton, Gattis and Uggla. Only two Braves starters didn't strike out against Fernandez: Simmons, who went 1-for-3 and has struck out just twice in 70 at-bats this season, and B.J. Upton, who has struck out 24 times already this season. Only four hitters even managed to get the ball out of the infield against Fernandez, whose 14 whiffs set a new season-high for pitchers, topping Cliff Lee's 13 against—you guessed it—Atlanta on Apr. 16. His Game Score of 88 is the third-best mark of the season, tied with Yu Darvish (Apr. 11 vs. Houston) behind Andrew Cashner (94 on Apr. 11 vs. Detroit) and Johnny Cueto (93 on Apr. 17 vs. Pittsburgh).

Fernandez wasn't just good, though; he was historically brilliant. According to Baseball-Reference's Play Index, Fernandez is just the seventh player since 1914 to go eight shutout innings with 14 or more strikeouts and no walks, and the first to do it since Johan Santana in 2007. The entire list:

PitcherTeamOpp.Date of GameIPHERBBK
Jose FernandezMIAATL4/22/2014830014
Johan SantanaMINTEX8/19/2007820017
Johan SantanaMINBAL9/19/2004870014
Randy JohnsonARICOL7/25/2004860014
Pedro MartinezBOSTOR7/1/2002870014
Pedro MartinezBOSANA5/7/1999860015
Mike ScottHOUCIN6/15/1987870014

The last pitcher to go eight shutout innings with 14 or more strikeouts: Fernandez himself on Aug. 2, 2013 against the Indians, when he whiffed 14 and allowed three hits and one walk. In the last five years, only Justin Verlander has also managed to do that twice. Fernandez is also the 14th pitcher all-time to record six or more double-digit-strikeout games at 21 years of age or younger, though he has no shot of catching the leader, Dwight Gooden, who pulled that feat off an astonishing 31 times before his 22nd birthday.

With the win, Fernandez's ERA drops to 1.99 in 31 2/3 innings, which may even be a little unlucky; Fernandez's FIP is a miniscule 1.46. He's now struck out 47 hitters over those 31 2/3 frames, a 13.36 strikeout-per-nine ratio, and has walked just six hitters all season. The effort also helped Miami snap a seven-game road losing streak. Perhaps most frustrating for the Braves was that Fernandez's brilliant night wasted an equally excellent effort by Atlanta starter Alex Wood, who went eight innings and struck out a career-high 11, allowing just one run on four hits and no walks. It's the first time two opposing pitchers have both gone eight innings with double-digit strikeouts and no walks in the same game since Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw did it on Aug. 20, 2012.
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