ST. PETERSBURG — When Marlins rookie right-hander Jose Fernandez whizzed a 99 mph fastball past All-Star Evan Longoria for his third strikeout of the first inning Monday, it provided a glimpse into one of baseball's young phenoms.
"He has the potential to be a really quality major-league starter," Longoria said. "He's got a lot to look forward to."
"Top-three best stuff we've seen this year," Kelly Johnson said.
But for Fernandez, a former Alonso High star, the added velocity was a sign he was too amped up, trying to do too much in front of several dozen family and friends at Tropicana Field.
It wouldn't be a happy homecoming as Fernandez gave up six runs in the second and was charged with a career-high seven in a career-low 31/3 innings of a 10-6 loss.
"I was the most pumped up since I got called up to the big leagues," Fernandez said. "And it didn't come out right."
But Fernandez, the 14th overall pick in 2011, considered his 10th big-league start a growth moment. So did manager Mike Redmond, who said Fernandez is mature beyond his years and "way more polished than any 20-year-old I've ever seen."
That includes All-Star Josh Beckett, whom Redmond caught at a similar age with the Marlins. And after Monday's game, Rays manager Joe Maddon joined Dodgers manager Don Mattingly in describing Fernandez as a younger version of Mariners Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez.
"That kid, when he figures it out, is going to be outstanding," Maddon said. "I was very, very impressed. Not just because of the stuff, he's got a feel for this whole thing, he's just not out there throwing. He knows how to pitch. From an observation perspective, it could be like King Felix-esque."
Fernandez (2-3, 3.78), who made the opening day roster despite having never pitched above Class A, had held his own. But he said he doesn't know what happened in a "weird" second inning Monday, other than being "too fine" while walking two batters and hitting another to load the bases. After a sacrifice fly, RBI single and run-scoring fielder's choice, Johnson hit the first of his two three-run homers.
"This game will humble you real quick," Fernandez said. "Like today."
Fernandez took time to thank the military in his Memorial Day postgame news conference and expressed gratitude to the family, friends and former teachers and administrators at Alonso who attended, saying they were a big part of his remarkable journey, from fleeing Cuba to reaching the majors. They called and texted him after the loss to keep his head up, and Fernandez planned on going out for a big dinner.
"It's not going to be as happy as I thought it was going to be," he said.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.