JUPITER, Fla. -- When Marlins manager Don Mattingly came to take the ball in the fourth inning on Sunday, Jose Fernandez put up a little resistance. But as much as he wanted to stay in, the 23-year-old understood he's part of a bigger plan.
The mission isn't to get the most out of Fernandez on an Easter game in which the Marlins rallied to a 4-2 win over the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. It's about preparation for the regular season and staying healthy for the entire year.
"I think Jose wanted to stay in there," Mattingly said. "He was frustrated I took him out right there."
Pitching coach Juan Nieves had Fernandez targeted for 80 pitches, and he was done at 79.
As part of his maturation process, Fernandez is more mindful that each time he steps on the mound, it's not Game 7 of the World Series. His final start at Roger Dean Stadium this spring was treated like an afternoon to refine all of his pitches, not necessarily game plan for St. Louis.
To a high-energy pitcher like Fernandez, pacing himself is an adjustment.
"The way I'm approaching it is this is about the long season, not the results right now," the right-hander said. "Don't get me wrong, it feels great to throw five innings, no hits, like the other day [against the Red Sox]. That's a great feeling. What is important is how your body feels, and what are your plans for the season? Of course, you want to always throw well.
"I'm not going to lie to you and say I don't care if I give up 10 runs. That's not the case. Obviously, you do different things now because you can afford to do it."
Sunday was used to fine tune Fernandez's changeup, and he threw the most breaking balls he has this spring. His fastball remains a power pitch, reaching as high as 98 mph. He also effectively spotted up some nice 93-mph heaters on the corners.
But his 3 2/3 inning outing was a mixed bag. Fernandez gave up a two-run homer to Tommy Pham in the fourth inning on a breaking ball. He allowed five hits, walked three (one intentionally) and struck out six.
"Every start, you've got to take it seriously," Fernandez said. "It's not like I am out here saying, 'Oh, whatever.' I compete all the time. I was just trying to keep my boys in the game. Obviously, I didn't have my best stuff out there. Hopefully, the next one will be better."
Fernandez's next outing will be more like a real game. He faces the Yankees on Friday at Marlins Park. After that, he goes on April 6 against the Tigers in Miami. It's for real that day.
"I don't take any game as exhibition," Fernandez said. "I take it as, 'I've got to beat you. I've got to give my boys a chance to win.' But I think it's going to be great, being home, warming up in the bullpen."
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.