MIAMI – When Braves rookie Ryan Weber makes his fourth major league start Friday night and tries again for his first win, he will do so against a Marlins phenom who's in his third major league season and still doesn't know what it's like to lose a home game.
Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, as you probably know, is extremely good. But for those who might have forgotten, since the Braves haven’t faced him this season in Miami, the right-hander is something else entirely at Marlins Park. He’s literally unbeatable, or has been so far in his career.
The young Cuban, who returned in July after a 14-month rehab from Tommy John elbow surgery, will go for major league record Friday when he tries to improve to 17-0 at Marlins Park.
It’ll be his final home start of the season, and the Braves will try to prevent Fernandez from breaking a record he currently shares with LaMarr Hoyt and John Allen for most home wins without a loss to begin a career.
Just consider these remarkable stats for Fernandez in 25 home starts spread over parts of three seasons: He's 16-0 with a 1.11 ERA, .171 opponents’ average, and 190 strikeouts with 43 walks in 162 2/3 innings. His teams are 22-3 in those games.
This season, Fernandez is 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in five home starts, with 37 strikeouts, seven walks and one homer allowed in 30 innings.
Not only has he never lost at home, Fernandez has only allowed more than two earned runs once in 25 home starts. And that was when he gave up a whopping three earned in six innings of a win against the Giants on July 2 in his first start in nearly 14 months after TJ surgery. He got back to normal in his next start, firing seven shutout innings against the Reds with nine strikeouts.
Two starts after that, he had a season-high 11 strikeouts in seven innings of a July 22 win at Arizona.
In nine overall starts this season, he’s 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA and .210 opponents’ average, with 68 strikeouts, 13 walks and two homers allowed in 53 2/3 innings. So, the general expectations for a pitching coming back from TJ surgery clearly don’t apply to this dude.
Right-handed batters are just 16-for-108 (.148) against him this season with three doubles, seven walks, 42 strikeouts and a .203 OBP and .176 slugging percentage, while lefties have hit .287/.340/.437 in 87 at-bats.
Fernandez has also never lost in September home or away, albeit in only four starts – he’s 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in those four games.
One more thing: In 33 career night games -- basically a season’s worth of starts -- Fernandez is 18-4 with a 1.96 ERA and 241 strikeouts in 206 1/3 innings. By comparison, he’s 3-4 with a 3.01 ERA in 12 career day games.
Against the Braves, Fernandez is 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA and .143 opponents’ average in five starts. He allowed two runs in six innings of an August 2013 loss in his first start against them, and since then he’s 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA in four starts against the Bravos.
Freddie Freeman, the hero of the Braves’ Wednesday night win against the Mets, is 3-for-12 with a homer against Fernandez, with no walks and five strikeouts. He’s the only current Brave with a homer against the right-hander. Andrelton Simmons (2-for-10) is the only other Brave with more than four official at-bats against Fernandez and the only Brave with more than one hit against him.
After returning from TJ surgery, Fernandez spent a month on the DL for a right biceps strain and only returned Sept. 12. He increased his pitch count from 69 in his first start back to 95 on Sept. 18 at Washington, where he gave up five hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings, with eight strikeouts and two walks. He got no decision in that Marlins loss at Nationals Park, after pitching five scoreless innings of two-hit ball at home against the Nationals six days earlier in his first start back from the DL.
Like we said, he’s a different animal at Nationals Park.
The matchup should be an adrenaline rush for Weber, a Florida native who began the season in Double-A and has pitched well in his first three major league starts, going 0-1 with a 3.26 ERA. He’s allowed 11 hits, seven runs and five walks with nine strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings, with four of those runs coming 6 1/3 innings against the Mets on Sept. 13. That was sandwiched between two quality starts against the Phillies.
Weber is about 5-10 and 165 pounds, and looks far younger than his 25 years.
By the way, he’s two years older than Fernandez. That’s right, Fernandez only turned 23 a couple of months ago.
Weber was born in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Aug. 12, 1990, Fernandez was born in Cuba on July 31, 1992.
• Braves uptick: After winning five of their past six games to open a five-game lead over the last-place Phillies in the NL East standings, the Braves (62-91) still have a shot to catch the third-place Marlins (66-87), who are four games ahead of them entering the three-game series that starts Friday.
It won’t be easy, as the Marlins have won six of their past eight at Marlins Park, and the Braves finish the season with six home games against the Nationals and Cardinals.
The Braves are 10-6 with a 3.50 ERA against the Marlins this season, but lost the past four games including a three-game Marlins sweep Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Turner Field.
The Marlins had a 7.27 ERA during a four-game losing streak before posting a 1.35 ERA while beating the Phillies Wednesday and Thursday in a pair of one-run games in Miami. They have a 2.31 ERA in their 6-2 stretch at Marlins Park entering this series against the Braves.
The Braves are 5-1 with a 2.04 ERA, .239 BA, 18 runs and three home runs in their past six games, after going 4-26 with a 6.58 ERA, .242 BA, 85 runs and 15 homers in their previous 30 games. In other words, their offense has been about the same, but their ERA was reduced by more than two-thirds during the recent success.
• Teheran, Miller this weekend: The Braves’ Saturday starter, Julio Teheran, is 4-1 with a 2.82 ERA in six starts at Marlins Park, while Sunday starter Shelby Miller is 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts at the retractable-dome stadium, including May 17 when he came within one out of throwing a no-hitter.
Miller hasn’t won in 23 starts since that two-hit shutout and has faced the Marlins twice in that span, a pair of losses in Atlanta in which he gave up a total of only three runs in 12 innings.
• NL East is least: The Braves are the lowest-scoring team in the majors with 539 runs entering Friday, well below the Marlins, next-lowest at 565. And the Phillies (576) are the third-lowest, making it three teams from the NL East holding down the bottom three spots among 30 MLB teams.
Those three offensive dregs also have the three lowest totals in home runs and OPS, with the Braves at the bottom by wide margins in each category, with a .670 OPS and 91 homers. The Marlins (113) and Phillies (119) are the only other MLB teams with as few as 125 homers entering Friday’s games. The Braves need nine homers in their last nine games to reach 100, while 15 teams already have at least 150 homers and four American League teams have more than 200 (the Dodgers lead the NL with 179).
The Braves’ .357 slugging percentage is a stunning 21 points lower than the next-worst in the majors, the Phillies’ .378. Nineteen teams have slugged .400 or higher.
Meanwhile, the Braves and Phillies also rank in the majors’ bottom four in ERA, with Atlanta’s 4.49 coming in at 27th and and Phillies’ 4.80 at 29th, ahead of only the Rockies’ 5.09.
• Here's a great tune about the Sunshine State by Blue Rodeo. I lived in Broward County for 13 years. It strikes a chord with me.
The land of endless malls
Images of Elvis flicks
Convertibles and blondes
And I remember crying
As you walked away along the shore
The last words I heard you say were what a bore And I remember drinking
In those air-conditioned bars
Putting all my quarters in a juke-box
With big silver stars
And I remember Nat King Cole
Singing a song about the rain
Oh I'm feeling blue again
Oh yea I'm feeling blue again And it was just like a vacation
And I'm sure we had us some fun
It was just like a vacation
And I swear we even sat out in the sun
You see my mother owned a trailer home
On west Broward past A1A
And to beat the north wind
We took a spin
To that tin can by the sea
Well I thought she was mine
But she was just passing time
She even passed out of town in my car
And left me with Nat King Cole
And the silver stars
Oh Nat King Cole and the silver stars
And it was just like a vacation
And I'm sure we had us some fun
It was just like a vacation
And I swear we even sat out
Yea I swear we even sat out
Yea I swear we even sat out in the sun
In the sun
In the sun
In the sun