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Fernandez bringing his all-out passion to cycling

MIAMI -- In full cycling gear, Jose Fernandez blends in nicely with the rest of the pack.

Sometimes the 21-year-old is in a group of 50 riders who trek the streets and trails near his home in Tampa, Fla. It's during breaks that some of them finally realize they are in the company of one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues.

"With the helmet and glasses and the way we dress, you can't really tell who we are," Fernandez said. "But when we stop to get water and stuff, people are like, 'Whoa, I didn't know you were here.' It's pretty fun."

Not being the center of attention is perfectly fine with the reigning National League Rookie of the Year Award winner.

The same passion and energy Fernandez unleashed on the mound for the Marlins in 2013 has been carried over into his offseason training.

Last season, South Florida and Major League Baseball quickly embraced Fernandez's immense pitching talents. One of baseball's biggest feel-good stories a year ago, he was simply dominating, posting a 12-6 record with a 2.19 ERA.

The hard-throwing right-hander made the leap from Class A to the big leagues at age 20. Fernandez became an All-Star and went on to receive the NL Rookie of the Year Award and finish third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

Any worries about Fernandez resting on his laurels were immediately put to rest once the 2013 season ended. Since last throwing a pitch in a big league game, he has remained on the go. Not so much in terms of baseball activities, but Fernandez has ramped up his conditioning by taking to bicycle riding.

We're not talking leisurely trips around the neighborhood. We're talking serious training, complete with top-of-the-line equipment and commitment. We're talking rides of 70-80 miles a day, five or six times a week.

As a rookie, Fernandez's fastball maxed out at 99 mph. His top speed on a bike was 43 mph.

Until a few weeks ago, when he started his throwing program, Fernandez had weeks where he rode 600 miles.

All of the miles Fernandez rides are calculated on his Garmin odometer. His crowning ride was a whopping 114 miles, which lasted six hours, 24 minutes and 51 seconds. For comparison, the 2014 Tour de France will cover an average of 108.2 miles per day over its 21 stages.

Fernandez was introduced to serious cycling by a friend in Tampa. He did some riding before Spring Training last year and liked it.

Now, he's all-in.

Fernandez owns a Specialized S-Works Venge bicycle, a sleek nearly 15-pound aerodynamically designed machine called a "racing powerhouse" in one review. On the Internet, Venge models cost up to $9,000.

Understanding the importance of safety, Fernandez has learned the rules of the road.

"There are a lot of safety rules," he said. "It's not just like, 'Let's go get on the bike.' There is a lot into it before you get in groups.

"The first month after the season ended, I started biking with a friend. He was telling me everything about the rules, like when to stop and how to respect everybody. I've learned a lot. It's something I love to do, and I've met a lot of very nice people."

Feverishly pedaling on asphalt is becoming as comfortable to Fernandez as stepping on the mound. The difference with cycling is that he isn't driven to conquer the sport. At least not yet. Baseball is still king.

"Most everything I do is related to baseball and my career," Fernandez said. "Basically everything I do is based on helping my pitching."

Biking has become such a big part of his cardio training.

"For sure, it's something that is helping my legs get a lot stronger," Fernandez said. "My cardio is getting a lot better."

When Spring Training opens for the Marlins on Feb. 16 in Jupiter, you will see a slimmed-down Fernandez. Listed at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds last year, the right-hander says he is down to 220 pounds.

"Everybody tells me, 'Man, you've lost a lot of weight.' But I feel good right now," Fernandez said. "A lot of people who ride are telling me how good this is going to be for my career, my endurance and my cardio and everything. I already feel a lot better."

Fernandez isn't looking to drop more weight, and he is also weight training and in the process of getting into baseball shape.

"I don't want to lose weight," he said. "So far, my weight has been pretty good. I'm pretty excited about getting ready for the season to start."

Once Spring Training starts, Fernandez doesn't plan to stop riding his bike. He will be pedaling from his apartment to the Roger Dean Stadium complex as much as possible.

In everything he does, Fernandez is a tireless worker. Since late December, he has eased into throwing, while not taking anything away from his training.

On a typical weekday, Fernandez wakes up around 5:30 a.m. ET and works on his baseball mechanics and techniques from 7-11 a.m. After baseball, he returns home, eats lunch, rests for a few minutes and packs his bike in his car. Fernandez drives north into Pasco County, where he rides for about four hours.

Fernandez's day isn't done when he returns from a ride. He lifts weights at night.

"I try to work all day and take breaks in the evening," he said.

Other pitchers may get in their running or do the various cardio machines in a gym. Fernandez is pushing his conditioning to another level. And he's chronicled much of his riding achievements on either his Twitter (@josefernandez77) or Instagram (josedfez16) accounts.

Even holidays couldn't slow down Fernandez's insatiable desire to ride. On Thanksgiving, for instance, he used Instagram to post a photo with a friend. He added the message: "Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!! 60 miles today very cold 35 degrees work hard never stop getting better every day!"

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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