Baseball seasons are long. Month after month of pitching every fifth day can be tough on a prospect's arm. Velocity dips. Movement flattens.
Not so with Jose Fernandez.
The 14th overall pick in the 2011 Draft excelled yet again Saturday, allowing two hits while striking out eight over five scoreless innings as Class A Advanced Jupiter topped Bradenton, 9-1.
Winding down his first full professional season, Fernandez (6-1) has allowed one run in his last five starts, a 25-inning span that has seen him go 5-0 with 31 strikeouts and eight walks.
"Everything is working good," he said. "My fastball's been crazy -- good location, a lot of strikeouts. The changeup is working [perfectly], curveball feels pretty good. The team has a shot to make it to the playoffs, so I'm trying to get better every day and help the team win."
The Cuban right-hander said he felt he's gotten stronger as the year has progressed. Where his fastball sat between 93-96 mph, occasionally touching 97, in Spring Training, it's more consistently around 95 now, topping out at 98 or even 99.
"I'm throwing harder," he said. "The two-seamer is like 96-97, sometimes 98, around the plate. It's running away from lefties and coming in on righties, and the four-seamer is harder, too. I'm just trying to throw strikes and keep good location."
Fernandez made his Florida State League debut on June 28 and was reached for four runs on five hits on five innings. He allowed three more runs over five frames in his next start on July 4 but hasn't given up more than two runs in any outing since, putting together a 1.03 ERA in 35 innings.
Overall, Fernandez has a 2.20 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 13 walks at the Class A Advanced level. He began the year with Class A Greensboro, where he went 7-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 99 strikeouts over 79 innings.
The recently turned 20-year-old said one of the biggest things he's taken out of this year has been learning how to take care of himself and make it through the long slog of a baseball season.
"Learning the way to take care of my body, the stuff you do, what you need to do, I'm pretty happy with all that stuff I've been doing," he said. "It's just been fun. I love the coaches, my teammates. It's all fun and I'm enjoying it."
Since his promotion, the Marlins' No. 3 prospect has been on a strict five-inning limit, usually throwing between 60-70 pitches per outing as the parent club seeks to protect him from overuse. With the Grasshoppers, he went at least six innings in nine of 14 starts, including an eight-inning, 11-strikeout outing on June 16 that turned out to be his last before the promotion.
Fernandez has fanned eight in four of his nine outings with Jupiter after recording 10 punchouts three times with Greensboro. He ranks fifth among all Minor Leaguers with 150 strikeouts.
"They put me at five innings, they know why. I'm throwing harder than when the season started, my body feels amazing, my pitches have gotten way better, so they know what they're doing," he said.
Marlins No. 6 prospect Marcell Ozuna provided the punch for Fernandez, going 3-for-4 with a homer, two doubles, five RBIs and four runs scored. The FSL midseason All-Star leads the league with 22 homers and ranks second with 83 RBIs while slugging at a .462 clip.
"Ozuna is one of my best friends," Fernandez said. "He just kills the ball every game. Talk about a great kid, he's there when you need him. We talk about a lot of stuff -- his hitting approach, just how to get better. He's pretty happy [with what he's done]."