Fernandez begins to implement new approach

Fernandez begins to implement new approach

VIERA, Fla. -- There wasn't much mystery in Jose Fernandez's first Grapefruit League start on Monday. The Marlins' ace is working on fastball command and adjusting his approach to challenge hitters while not necessarily trying to overpower them.

Everything went according to plan for Fernandez over two shutout innings in the Marlins' 7-4 loss to the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium.

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"I felt great. I think we executed the game plan," Fernandez said. "It felt so good to be out there. My heart started going. It's always great."

Fernandez wasn't exactly saying to the Nationals: "See it, now try hitting it." But he is clearly adjusting to pitch off his fastball. In all, the 23-year-old fireballer threw 34 pitches, with 20 for strikes. By his estimate, he threw one curveball and about seven changeups. The rest was mixing fastballs to both sides of the plate at varying speeds.

Free and easy, his fastball ranged from 94-99 mph.

"We have a lot of plans," Fernandez said. "A lot of things to help the team out. The main goal here is to go out there every five days and give the team a chance to win."

Fernandez didn't allow a hit, walked one and struck out one against a majority of the Nationals' regulars.

A theme manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Juan Nieves are preaching to Fernandez is to refine his approach. Rather than reaching back and trying to throw 100 mph, pace yourself. Changing speeds and spotting his fastball are two things that are being stressed to Fernandez.

"He's fun to watch," Mattingly said. "We've been really working with him trying to stay under control. He doesn't have to go 100 mph and throw every pitch as hard as you possibly can throw it."

Mattingly is preaching longevity to Fernandez, and all of his players. Playing under control and not overdoing things is a start.

"You've got to stay under your mechanics," Fernandez said. "Working on that fastball location and trying to get that early contact."

Fernandez, who will be two years removed from Tommy John surgery in May, will be working within an innings range of 180.

Inducing early contact and getting quick outs are ways of prolonging his season and career.

On Monday, Fernandez got two ground-ball outs, including breaking the bat of Bryce Harper on a slow grounder to second. The lone baserunner he allowed was a one-out walk to Anthony Rendon in the first inning. In the second inning, he struck out Danny Espinosa on a changeup.

"We want to see him continue to pitch, and to continue to develop his weapons to where he doesn't have to have the mentality of, 'I have to strike everybody out,'" Mattingly said.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.