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Things looking up for All-Star Fernandez

Cuban defector enjoys life at Sally League Midsummer Classic
June 20, 2012
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- North Division starting pitcher Jose Fernandez (Marlins) hopes the South Atlantic League All-Star Game is just one of many highlights on his road to the big leagues, but the 19-year old right-hander's path to this point is already remarkable.

Fernandez grew up in Santa Clara, Cuba before escaping the country and successfully reaching the United States on his family's fourth attempt to flee. One of the previous attempts ended with a then-14-year-old Fernandez spending 15 days in a Cuban jail, while another was derailed when Fernandez's mother fell overboard and he dove into the water to save her.

"It helped me being through all that stuff," said Fernandez, whom the Marlins tabbed with the 14th pick in the 2011 Draft following three dominant seasons for Alonso High School in Tampa.

"Thinking when you get in the boat and go in the water and you have little idea of where you're gonna go, are you gonna die, are you going to flip in the water? When you look around, everything you see is water and it's just 'Let's hope we get to land.'"

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Fernandez has wasted no time in showcasing the stuff which prompted the Marlins to bestow a $2 million signing bonus upon him. Fernandez sports a perfect 7-0 record to go along with a 1.59 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. He has fanned 99 batters over 79 frames, and highlighted his first half with a 28 1/3 consecutive inning shutout streak from May 21 to June 16. He threw a scoreless first inning Tuesday, just two days after helping the Greensboro Grasshoppers clinch the first-half North Division title.

"When I'm on the mound, I compete," said Fernandez of his mentality. "I respect the game so much and I love it. I just look to the best pitchers and try to pick up the little things because I want to be the best. I have to pick up the little things to be the best."

South Division starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz (Astros) did not face the same hardships that his counterpart Fernandez did in his path to professional baseball, but the 6-4 right-hander has enjoyed the 2012 season just as much.

Foltynewicz was tabbed by the Astros with the 19th pick in 2010, but struggled to a 4.97 ERA over 26 starts with the Lexington Legends during his first full season in 2011. The native of Minooka, Ill., has exhibited his promise through his second go-around in the South Atlantic League, however, posting a 9-1 mark while pitching to a 2.13 ERA.

"It's been mental," said Foltynewicz of his improvement this season. "Everything's been mental for me, (as far as) before games and just preparing every fifth day and all those days in between."

Foltynewicz performed up to his first-half standards against the North's best, pairing a solid breaking ball with a low-90's fastball to strike out four over two hitless innings.

"Once you get into pro ball, one through nine hits and you just can't blow the fastball by guys all the time," he said of last year's experience. "You have to command the pitches and throw off-speed for strikes and get ready to throw every five days."

In brief

Riggins wins Derby: Asheville infielder Harold Riggins (Rockies) didn't clinch his Home Run Derby title on the deck of the USS Yorktown, but the 21-year old slugger did win a rendering of the iconic aircraft carrier for his longball prowess.

"It's pretty cool," said Riggins of the painting, which depicts the carrier that participated in several World War II Pacific Theatre operations and earned 11 battle stars. "I might hang it up in my apartment when I get back home. We'll see."

A day after clinching one of four spots in the finals by launching majestic drives into the Charleston harbor, Riggins smacked three balls out of spacious Riley Park to best Lexington's Matt Duffy (Astros) for the crown an hour before first pitch.

"I just try to put good swings on the ball and see how far it goes," said Riggins, Colorado's 2011 seventh-round selection of his approach.

Riggins, who helped Asheville to the first-half North Division title, also spoke highly of his whole experience in Charleston.

"The whole All-Star break has been awesome. The Yorktown, getting to see some historical stuff like that, was excellent."

Those with an interest in Civil War era history were also given a treat during the pregame ceremony as a replica of the American flag that flew over nearby Fort Sumter at the war's outset draped the infield during Charleston native Eddie Bush's rendition of the national anthem.

Kevin O'Rourke is a contributor to