Chiefs' Fernandez puts up zeros, wins again

Cardinals prospect goes six-plus innings, rebounds from rough starts

Junior Fernandez has struck out 43 and walked 21 over 49 Midwest League innings this year. (Dennis Sievers/Peoria Chiefs)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | June 1, 2016 12:58 AM

After Junior Fernandez rebounded from a pair of rough outings with a decent start last week, he reasserted himself as one of the Midwest League's most dominant pitchers on Tuesday.

"I've just been working on my mechanics and trying to command my fastball," he said. "That's going to allow me to go deep into games. I'm focusing on it in long toss and in my bullpens, working with the pitching coach [Dernier Orozco]."

Fernandez allowed three hits and struck out eight over six-plus scoreless innings to pick up his second straight victory as Class A Peoria shut down visiting Wisconsin, 5-1. He issued a pair of walks and lowered his ERA to 2.93.

It was the second time in three starts against the Timber Rattlers that the Cardinals' 15th-ranked prospect has come away triumphant, having held them to three runs while striking out 24 over 21 innings.

The 19-year-old right-hander has failed to go five full innings in two of nine starts this year. He surrendered eight runs -- seven earned -- over 5 2/3 innings in back-to-back starts on May 14-19, but he got back in the win column a week ago by holding Kane County to one run on two hits in 5 2/3 frames. 

"I had two bad outings where I made a lot of pitches in [bad innings] and had to be taken out," he said. "I've been feeling good and working to get better every day."

Fernandez shrugged off a two-out single in the first by 11th-ranked Brewers prospect Isan Diaz and, after Max McDowell drew a leadoff walk in the second, retired 12 straight.

"I wasn't going to panic because of just one walk. I said, 'Don't let [anybody] get a base hit now,' and I was trying to go deep into the game," he said. "Walks are always going to be there. You have to control it every time and don't walk a lot of guys. If you don't walk any more guys, that's less pitches and you're going to go deeper in the game."

When Carlos Belonis and Blake Allemand opened the sixth with back-to-back singles, Fernandez reacted with similar nonchalance.

"I was like, 'Oh, OK.' That's it," he said. "I gave up two base hits, but I knew I just can't let them get to home plate. That's all I've got to do. I started working like I always do -- don't let them get that run. That's the type of pitcher I am. If I don't do something, the game's not going to move because I'm the guy with the ball. I'm the guy. I have control over the game."

Fernandez ended that threat by striking out Jake Gatewood. That left the Brewers' No. 23 prospect 0-for-8 with four whiffs and a hit-by-pitch against the native of the Dominican Republic.

"We had a plan for the game, and the pitching coach showed me two charts and talked about the last two games against them," Fernandez said. "I know he can't hit my slider. I know he's bad with breaking balls. I said, 'OK, this guy with seven home runs, I'm going to throw my slider in the dirt and he's always going to swing at it.'"

Fernandez plunked McDowell to start the seventh and Alan Sharkey reached on an error by second baseman Eliezer Alvarez. He'd thrown 95 pitches, 60 for strikes, and was relieved by Juan Perez, who retired the next three Timber Rattlers to end the inning.

"It was exciting to see Juan Perez work that out," Fernandez said. "I was trying to help him out with a little bit of noise, like, 'You can do it! Let's go! You got this!' And finally we got those three outs. It was a really good inning for him."

Brewers right-hander Matt Garza (0-1), making his first rehab start after suffering a strained right lat muscle, allowed three runs -- two earned -- on four hits with a strikeout over two innings. He threw 22 of 32 pitches for strikes and took the loss.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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