The Miami Marlins have struggled so much in 2013 that it took a 15-10 month of June just to climb out of the bottom rung of the MLB standings. With the (now) second-worst record in baseball, the Marlins have had few bright spots, but the brightest has been rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez.
A surprise call-up before Opening Day, Fernandez had never pitched above the single-A level, but he has been surprisingly dominant for the young Marlins. His 5-4 record is nothing to write home about, but his 2.72 ERA is tenth-best in the National League, and opposing batters are hitting just .192 against him.
His 8-inning shutout performance on Monday was his fourth start of the season allowing no runs, and he has another four 1-run starts as well.
"You can tell why the Marlins like this kid," Padres manager Bud Black said Monday after Fernandez shut out the Padres. "He has a lot of talent. For 20 years old, he's pretty advanced."
Writing for NBC Sports' Harball Talk, Aaron Gleeman pointed out that Fernandez is striking out batters at a rate almost unheard of for a 20-year-old. Fernandez has 94 strikeouts over 92 and 2/3 innings, good for 9.1 per 9 innings.
Only one pitcher has done better at that age: Rick Ankiel in 2000. When Dwight Gooden won the NL Cy Young award as a 20-year-old in 1985, he struck out 8.7 per nine innings.
There is a good chance that Fernandez will be the Marlins' lone representative at the annual All-Star Game in two weeks, as slugging outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has missed much of the first half to injury.
Along with Stanton, Fernandez has already become one of the faces of the franchise thanks to his sterling play and personal history. Born in Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez defected to the U.S. in 2008. It was his fourth attempt to leave the country.
"It has been pretty hard for me to get here — not to the big leagues, but to the United States," he said last month. "Living in Cuba for 15 years taught me a lot. Life over there is pretty tough. I'm incredibly blessed to be in the United States."
The Marlins selected him in the first round (14th overall) of the 2010 MLB draft. The jewel of Miami's farm system, he has taken advantage of his opportunity in the big leagues.
"I compete my butt off," he said. "It doesn't matter who I'm facing. It could be the best hitter in the world; it could be my mom. I compete and compete and compete and compete, and that's what everybody is going to get out of me every time."