Not many things have gone right for the Miami Marlins this season. However, the emergence of 21-year-old right-hander Jose Fernandez has been one of them.
Fernandez goes after his fourth straight win on Thursday and will try to help the Marlins salvage the finale of their three-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
The Cuban-born first round pick from 2011 was at his absolute best on Friday, as he struck out 14 and limited the Cleveland Indians to just a pair of hits in eight scoreless innings to run his record to 8-5, while lowering his ERA to 2.54.
Fernandez, who had never pitched above Single-A before this season, leads the Marlins in wins, ERA, strikeouts (138), as well as innings pitched (127 2/3). He's also tops among rookies in ERA, strikeouts and opponents' batting average (.190)
"I've watched this kid over the course of the year," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "I can't imagine there being a better rookie than him."
Over his last four starts Fernandez is 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA. One of those wins came against the Pirates two starts ago, as he held the National League Central leaders to two runs in eight frames.
Pittsburgh, though, has reeled off eight wins in 10 games since that loss to Fernandez. On Wednesday, Charlie Morton worked seven effective innings and drove in a run in the Pirates' 4-2 triumph.
Morton (4-3) gave up two runs on six hits with five strikeouts, and his fifth- inning single tied the score one batter before the deciding run came home.
"I don't want to put anything on the shoulders of anybody else," Morton said talking about his previous struggles. "I want to go out there and do my job."
Mark Melancon tossed a scoreless ninth to earn his seventh save.
Andrew McCutchen homered and Pedro Alvarez drove in the other run for the Pirates, who have taken the first two in the series and 13 of their last 18 overall.
Donovan Solano contributed an RBI single for the Marlins, losers in four straight and six of nine.
"We're just having a tough time right now stringing hits together," said Redmond. "It seems like if we get a couple of guys on, we hit into a double play or line out. We've had some good at bats but we haven't been able to string them together."
Tom Koehler (3-7) lasted five frames in defeat, charged with seven runs and three hits, despite fanning eight.
Hoping to add to the Marlins' misery on Thursday will be right-handed rookie Gerrit Cole, who has lost five of his last six starts. Cole's latest loss came on Friday against Colorado, as he allowed three runs and three hits in 5 1/3 innings to fall to 5-5 to go along with a 3.69 ERA.
Cole, also a 2011 first round pick, lost to Fernandez and the Marlins in that July 28 start, surrendering three runs in seven innings of work.
The Pirates swept the Marlins in three games the last time the clubs played in Pittsburgh, from July 20-22 in 2012.