Baseball lost two marquee starters to Tommy John surgery early in 2014 when Jose Fernandez and Matt Moore went down with UCL tears. Moore was the first to fall, appearing in just two games and totaling 10 innings in early April before making the dreaded trek to visit Dr. James Andrews. Fernandez wasn’t far behind, dropping a month later after 51.2 glorious innings. He would take the road less travelled, choosing Dr. Neal ElAttrache to attach a new ligament.
Although many questioned the Marlins' sanity naming Fernandez to the Opening Day roster in 2013 after just 27 minor league starts -- none of which were above High-A -- Jose Fernandez immediately established himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League. His 4.1 fWAR across 172.2 must-see innings was enough to earn him NL Rookie of the Year honors and a third place finish in NL Cy Young Voting, behind Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.
Fernandez started off strong again in 2014, but went down on May 9th during a match against the San Diego Padres. Jose was just another example that you can’t trust athletes to self-report injuries, as he later confessed that he’d felt a "pinch" in his elbow during his previous start against the Dodgers.
In his brief career, Fernandez sports a brilliant 2.60 FIP and has struck out 29 percent of batters while only walking nine percent. He has relied primarily on his fourseam fastball (49 percent) -- which averaged 96 mph across his first two seasons -- and a hard curve (35 percent). Fernandez also occasionally mixes in a hard sinker (94 mph) and a hard changeup (88 mph). Are you seeing the pattern here?
Fernandez struggled in the first inning, but before Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik crossed the plate, he struck out the great Matt Duffy with a 99 mph heater. Safe to say his velocity has returned!
He settled down after the first inning and went on to strike out a total of six batters while walking none. He looked mostly like the Fernandez of old, just with more scars. Fernandez leaned heavily on his fastball, throwing it for 60 of his 89 pitches with velocity averaging in the mid-90s. He had his curve in mid-season form, as he used it to notch seven of his 11 whiffs. He also seemed well conditioned, as there was little drop in velocity over his six innings.
Fernandez got it done at the plate as well, wasting no time before hitting his second career home run against Matt Cain -- who was also making his season debut. He was so good that Dan Jennings let him bat for himself in the bottom of the 6th before replacing him with Mike Dunn to start the 7th. Veteran move, Dan.
While Fernandez was today's main attraction, Matt Moore also returned from UCL repair today. Moore was also overshadowed when he was drafted in the 8th round of the 2007 draft. That time, it was David Price who rightly stole the spotlight when he was selected first overall by the Devil Rays. Price reached The Show in September of 2008 and appeared in 5.2 of the franchise’s first postseason innings. Moore would go on to top several prospect lists in 2012 season, appearing ahead of both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
While what Fernandez did as a rookie and sophomore is an unfair benchmark for any pitcher, Moore has been just OK over parts of four major league seasons. He owns a 3.92 FIP and has struck out 23 percent of batters faced while walking 11 percent.
Moore also leans heavily on a hard four-seam fastball (94 mph) which he mixes most often with a hard change (17 percent) and a 12-6 curve (18%) which he throws with a knuckle curve grip. Like Fernandez, Moore’s pitches are typically thrown harder than average.
Moore’s season debut was much different from Fernandez’s, but he too notched his first strikeout early, getting Michael Brantley to chase one low to end a 1-2-3 first.
Moore held the Indians hitless over the first three innings before he gave up a soft flyball single to Jason Kipnis to lead off the fourth. Kipnis would eventually score on a Michael Brantley sacrifice fly after advancing to third on a wild pitch. Moore struggled mightily after that hit, throwing 25 pitches in each of the fourth and fifth inning. He would also uncork two more wild pitchers, reinforcing that control is indeed the last skill to return following UCL repair.
In the end Moore lasted just 4.2 innings, delivering 81 pitches. Of those, 53 were fastballs which averaged 91 mph, about three mph down from his career average. He managed 10 whiffs, struck out four, and walked two. Despite the difficulties his second time through the order, the first three innings held plenty of positives for Moore to build on in his upcoming starts.
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