Caught three times trying to emigrate from Cuba, Jose Fernandez was thrown in jail, expelled from school and placed under house arrest. Compared to that, tossing a few hitless innings on Tuesday was just another day at the park.
The Marlins' No. 3 prospect combined with relievers Gregory Nappo and Kevin Cravey to no-hit the Class A Hickory Crawdads and lead the Greensboro Grasshoppers to a 6-0 win.
The no-hitter is the first in the Minor Leagues this season and the first for Greensboro since Jason Vargas pitched a nine-inning no-hitter against Savannah on Aug. 24, 2004. The Crawdads were also the victims of the last no-no in the South Atlantic League, when Kannpolis' Matt Wickswat, Jake Petricka and Taylor Thompson combined on a seven-inning effort on Aug. 20, 2010.
"I just went out there and tried to do the best I can, like always," Fernandez said. "It worked out pretty good. I'm happy about it, my teammates and coaches are happy. The team played really good, and I think the relievers that came after me pitched good, too. It just makes the team happy."
Fernandez allowed only two baserunners in his outing -- he walked Jhonny Gomez with two outs in the third and then issued a free pass to Jordan Atkins with one out in the fifth. The 19-year-old right-hander struck out eight on the day, marking the third time in his four starts this year that he has fanned that many. In his other appearance, he whiffed seven.
"Everything [was working]," Fernandez said. "My fastball, I had good command. My two-seamer was beautiful today. My curveball, my slider, my changeup. The catcher [Wilfredo Gimenez] and me, we just pitched our game. That happens."
Nappo tossed two frames after Fernandez, fanning three and putting two men on in total. The 23-year-old southpaw walked Christopher Grayson with two outs in the seventh and hit Gomez with two outs in the eighth.
"I didn't know if they were going to let Jose stay out there and keep going since he was pitching so well," said Nappo, who is being used solely as a reliever for the first time this year. "It kind of shocked me that they put me in, but I just tried to throw strikes.
"I knew I was going to have a great fastball coming off the day off, but I wanted to incorporate some offspeed and my curveball was working. I used a lot of offspeed breaking balls in my outing and tried to keep hitters off-balance. Jose did a great job keeping hitters off-balance with his fastball, so I just tried to use my breaking ball as well."
Cravey worked a perfect ninth to close to door, though his frame was not without drama. With one out, Hickory's Rougned Odor smacked a line drive to right field that looked like it would fall in for the Crawdads' first hit of the game, but outfielder James Wooster made a diving catch to preserve the no-no.
"I threw [Odor] an inside fastball," Cravey said. "He turned on it and hit a hard line drive that Wooster came in on it and dove and caught right at the ground. You kind of hold your breath, not sure at first if he trapped it or caught it. A little relief there -- I didn't want to be the one that ruined it."
Despite the excitement that followed his exit, Fernandez said he was never worried about the no-hitter.
"No chance," he said. "I trust our pitchers, and everybody that goes out there works hard. They don't want to give up hits, they don't want to give up runs. If anything would happen, everything would be good. It's just a game, you've got to have fun when you're playing."
Drafted 14th overall in June, Fernandez scuffled in his brief taste of pro ball last year, allowing six runs -- five earned -- in 4 1/3 innings between the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League. But after being born in Cuba and coming over to America in 2008, Fernandez's initial struggles in pro ball don't compare to the trials he suffered earlier in life.
"I tried four times to escape from Cuba," Fernandez said. "I got caught three times -- I was in jail in Cuba, I got kicked out of school, I was placed under house arrest. It's tough over here; a lot of my family's still over there. But it feels good to be here and to go out to the field every day and play the game that you love. It's amazing."
Fernandez threw three no-hitters and a perfect game while at Alonso High School in Tampa, Fla., but it was his earlier experiences that he drew upon during his effort on Tuesday.
"My life has been pretty rough, and I just think about trying to get my goals," he said. "It helps to go out there and work hard every day and throw strikes. I love winning, that's what I play this sport for. I like to win, I love my teammates and I love the game."
With the no-hitter in the books, Fernandez is now 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA this season. His 33 strikeouts in 23 innings ranked second in the league, while his 0.74 WHIP checks in at fourth.
"I'm just working hard, just [applying] a lot of concentration," Fernandez said. "Learning how to pitch at this level is not the same as high school, but it's working out pretty good. ... I'm just trying to do the best I can every day and working hard to help my team win. Those are my goals."