MIAMI -- When Jose Fernandez faced the Rays on Monday at Tropicana Field, the 20-year-old rookie endured arguably his worst outing in 10 big league starts.
In 3 1/3 innings, the right-hander was tagged for seven runs (four earned) in a 10-6 Marlins' loss.
While the numbers weren't pretty, Fernandez left a strong first impression with Rays manager Joe Maddon.
"That guy there, with good health, over the next three, four, five years, whatever -- could be the best pitcher in the game," Maddon said. "That's it. That's how good he is."
Born in Cuba, Fernandez was a two-time state champion at Alonzo High School in Tampa. Admittedly, the hard-throwing right-hander was pumped up pitching in front of family and friends.
He showed his fastest velocity of the season, hitting 99 mph on a fastball that struck out Evan Longoria swinging.
The pure stuff and composure Fernandez displayed caught Maddon's attention.
"Delivery, outstanding. Stuff, outstanding," the Rays' two-time American League Manager of the Year said. "He's got a way about him. I don't even know the kid, but I could tell he's got a lot of confidence."
If there is a concern, Maddon noted, it could be how Fernandez deals with the transition to the big leagues, and nights that he struggles.
"The only thing I'd be concerned with him is just that he doesn't get beat up too much, just based on inexperience," Maddon said. "Because physically, he's as gifted as I've seen in a while."