Class A Advanced Palm Beach's pitching coach Randy Niemann has seen Junior Fernandez deliver some impressive moments on the mound. Wednesday night's performance by the young right-hander topped his list.
"This was probably his best [outing]," Niemann said. "I was very proud of him for not trying to do too much. He's only 20 years old and he's very competitive, and sometimes he'll try to compete too hard. We want that in him, but he also has to do it by staying within himself."
The Cardinals No. 10 prospect retired the first 19 batters he faced before finishing with eight scoreless innings in Palm Beach's 7-0 shutout of Tampa at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday. Fernandez allowed one hit and one walk while striking out six en route to his first win of the season.
The Dominican Republic native was coming off a rough second start of the season in which he surrendered five earned runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings against Charlotte on April 12.
"In between his last start and this one, during his bullpen, we really worked on keeping his delivery under control," Niemann said. "Junior has got a power arm, and sometimes he'll overthrow and miss location and not able to make pitches like he can. Tonight, he just stayed under control the whole time."
Fernandez tallied five of his strikeouts during his bid for a perfect game, which was broken up with one out in the seventh frame on a single up the middle by Yankees No. 19 prospect Nick Solak.
"He really did a nice job of using his fastball and he threw some really good changeups as the game went on, some of them behind in the count, which was big for him," Niemann said. "He was really professional and he didn't get too excited about the events that were going on. Obviously, he knew he had a perfect game through six and he was very disappointed when he gave up that hit, but he came right back and got the next two guys out."
Fernandez worked around his lone walk in the eighth and finished having thrown 58 of 97 pitches for strikes.
"He had some very dominant outings last year, but his slider has gotten so much better. It's a big improvement," Niemann said. "He's always had a good change and he's also using his two-seam really well now, so he's got good weapons to work with."
Fernandez returned to Palm Beach after posting a 2-2 record with a 5.36 ERA through 10 games -- six starts -- last season following a promotion from Class A Peoria, but Niemann believes his charge's second go-around in the Florida State League will be much smoother.
"It's part of his youthful exuberance," the coach said. "You can talk about a lot of things in between starts and you can work on a lot of things in bullpen, but to be able to go out in a game and execute it, I think it does wonders for his confidence. It's just part of his youth. As he continues to mature, I expect more of these types of outings like tonight."
Brennan Leitao allowed one hit and struck out one in the ninth to seal the shutout.
Cardinals No. 15 prospect Randy Arozarena and Darren Seferina tallied three hits apiece, with Seferina driving in three runs.