Rounding Third: The best pitcher you've never heard of

Quick, name the ace of the Miami Marlins.

Better yet, name me anyone in their rotation. Actually I'd be impressed if you could give me someone on the roster period other than outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.

Now diehard baseball fans may know who Jose Fernandez is, but does the casual fan realize just how good of a season the 21-year-old rookie is putting together down in South Beach?


And why would anyone take notice of the Marlins? After a winter that saw them unload over $100 million in payroll, they are playing exactly as everyone thought they would. Heading into this weekend, the Marlins are 34 games under .500 and a whopping 32 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East.

We all saw that coming, though. What we didn't see coming was the performance from Fernandez, a former first-round pick, who until this year hadn't pitched above Single-A.

Fernandez essentially was handed a rotation spot this spring thanks to injuries to Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi. Team president Larry Beinfest said at the time he would spend the entire year with the big league team, but nobody really paid him much attention.

Perhaps we should have listened a little more because all Fernandez has done is catapult himself to not only the top of the NL Rookie of the Year ballots (Sorry, Yasiel Puig apologists), but has put himself into the conversation for an NL Cy Young Award.

Fernandez's numbers are amazing, especially at home, where he is 7-0 in 13 starts with a 1.29 ERA. There have been 10 pitchers to go at least 7-0 at home, but Fernandez is the first since Milwaukee's Zack Greinke posted an 11-0 mark in 15 starts at Miller Park in 2011.

Of the 14 pitchers since 1916 with 13 or more home starts and records of 7-0 or better in a season, Fernandez's ERA is second only to Orel Hershiser's 1.08 mark at Dodger Stadium in 1985.

Lately, though, it hasn't mattered where he has pitched, as he's gone 8-3 with a 1.61 ERA in 16 starts and 106 1/3 innings since June 1. He just picked up his second consecutive NL Rookie of the Month award after going 3-1 with a 1.15 ERA and 49 strikeouts over six starts.

While he may not be showing any signs of slowing down, the Marlins are planning to shut him down. After a home start versus Washington Friday, the plan is for Fernandez to take the ball one last time before calling it a season at around 170 innings.

"It was kind of the unknown at the beginning of the season, how he would do and how he would perform," manager Mike Redmond recently said. "We were looking at ways to protect him, based on how many innings he had gone before. That's the number we came up with."

All that will be left for Fernandez after that is figuring out his place in the award races.

Now Puig is at the forefront of every rookie conversation. Of course, he's been sensational and you can pinpoint the Los Angeles Dodgers' turnaround to his call-up, but you cannot argue with Fernandez's overall body of work.

Not to mention the fact Puig has been benched a couple times because of his immaturity. This really isn't be a conversation. Fernandez should be a shoo- in.

Actually it would be a crime if Puig were to beat Fernandez for this award.

Prepare for it, though, because some of these Baseball Writers Association of America voters will vote on name recognition alone. Fact.

As far as a Cy Young Award, well forget that. Fernandez should win one award over a Dodger, but it won't be this one. As good as he's been, he's not anywhere near as dominant as Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

But, he's getting there.

And next year at this time, when someone asks who is the ace of the Marlins, you better believe Fernandez is the first name mentioned.