Indians react to tragic loss of Fernandez

Marlins All-Star pitcher died in boating accident Sunday

Indians react to tragic loss of Fernandez

CLEVELAND -- A group of players stood in front of a clubhouse television, others watching from their seats at their lockers, taking in the unfathomable news of Jose Fernandez's death. One of the baseball's rising stars, and one of the faces of the game, was gone.

Indians pitcher Danny Salazar, who posted a heartfelt message on social media, told reporters he was too upset to discuss the tragic development. The team was still learning the details, and coming to terms with the reality that Fernandez, 24, had passed away in a boating accident in Miami early Sunday morning.

"It's awful news," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "He was one of the better guys in the entire league, not only as a pitcher. I didn't really know him off the field, but I always heard good things about him. You just feel sorry for his family and friends. You feel sorry for their organization. And you feel sorry for the game of baseball, because it lost one of the better pitchers today."

Indians manager Terry Francona had not heard the news until after he arrived at Progressive Field on Sunday morning to prepare for the day's game against the White Sox. He overheard a few people talking about it, and he quickly looked into what had happened.

The news sickened Francona.

"We get so consumed with baseball," Francona said. "On a personal level, man, it just kind of feels like you get punched in the stomach a little bit. I can't imagine how they feel. From afar, I know how we feel. You just hope that the family and the players and the friends, that they can gather some strength wherever they can get it, because [it is] hard to figure."

In the wake of the news, the Marlins-Braves game on Sunday was canceled.

"I don't know how they finish the season," Francona said. "That's got to be awful."

Fernandez, who was a two-time All-Star and the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, pitched in Cleveland as recently as three weeks ago in a season that is worthy of NL Cy Young Award consideration. Three years ago, when Fernandez took the baseball world by storm, the right-hander with the powerful fastball and mesmerizing slider toyed with the Tribe in Miami.

On Aug. 2, 2013, Fernandez amassed 14 strikeouts and allowed no runs over eight innings against the Indians, who took a 10-0 loss on the chin. It marked the most strikeouts by a starting pitcher in a shutout defeat for Cleveland since 1966. Only 10 pitchers in history have recorded at least that many strikeouts in a game against the Indians.

Fernandez's 14 strikeouts

Francona, who won the American League Manager of the Year Award in 2013, remembers being impressed by Fernandez the following winter at the annual New York dinner, where the Baseball Writers' Association of America awards are presented.

"He won Rookie of the Year and he did it in Spanish," Francona said. "And I think at the end he said, 'I'll do this next year in English.' And, if I'm not correct, his English was flawless. I just remember watching that and thought it was pretty cool. But, man, it doesn't matter what the story was, you know what I mean?

"Man, it's a kid. Somebody's mom is heartbroken. That's a tough one. And I'm sure it's going to be tough."

Indians first baseman Carlos Santana wrote, "Terrible tragedy, my heart is with your family and the other victims. RIP Jose. What a terrible loss for our MLB fraternity," on his Twitter account. Rookie pitcher Adam Plutko posted, "Absolutely shocking news. I loved watching his passion as a competitor every day he took the ball," on his account as well. Kipnis simply wrote, "Speechless."

Salazar tweeted a message in Spanish that, when translated, read: "How difficult to get to the stadium in the morning and run into this tragic news. My thoughts and sympathies are with the Fernandez family. Jose Fernandez, go with God."

The Indians experienced a similar tragedy on March 22, 1993, when players Tim Crews, 31 at the time, and Steve Olin, 27, were killed in a boating accident on a Spring Training off-day. Situations like that one 23 years ago, and the sad news involving Fernandez on Sunday, have a way of putting things in perspective.

"It does," Kipnis said. "It definitely gives you a moments to take a step back to realize what's going on and what's important, and to appreciate a little bit more of the little things that are going on. Or, seeing familiar faces every day. It's just awful."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.