JUPITER, Fla. -- It was shaping up like any other Spring Training start for Jose Fernandez, who was prepared and energized to take on the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.
The Marlins ace was upbeat and ready to go. But shortly after stepping on the mound on Thursday, the 21-year-old had a strange thought.
"This may sound funny," Fernandez said. "I threw my first pitch for a strike. The second pitch, I was thinking, 'God, I don't want to get hit.' I was like, 'Wow, how am I going to react after throwing?' But [after that], everything was normal."
Fernandez is a professional and a rising star. He's also very much human, and compassionate. In the back of his mind, he briefly thought about the terrible injury Aroldis Chapman suffered on Wednesday night.
Chapman, the Reds' closer, was struck in the face -- above his left eye -- by a line drive against the Royals. The left-hander underwent surgery to repair a broken bone.
Like Chapman, Fernandez is from Cuba. They both share stories of defecting from their native country in pursuit of freedom, and an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.
In the past year, they've become friends, and they got together on occasion in the offseason.
"We got to know each other in the offseason a lot better," Fernandez said. "I am going to call him in a couple of days to check on him and see how he's doing. We talk now and then. I got a lot closer to the Cuban players."
For any pitcher or player, Fernandez is aware of the risks every time they step on the field.
An unfortunate incident occurred in the fifth inning on Thursday. Marlins second baseman Derek Dietrich fractured a bone in the top of his nose on a bad-hop ground ball.
Dietrich's break came in the lone inning Fernandez struggled in Miami's 4-3 win over the Cardinals.
"I was shaken by what happened to Dietrich," Fernandez said.
The Marlins claimed a three-run lead in the fourth inning, but in the fifth, Fernandez was tested. St. Louis capitalized on four hits and a walk to score three runs in the frame.
Fernandez was in position to minimize the damage to two runs, but the bad hop wiped out a potential double play on Jon Jay's hot grounder.
"It was a double play by a mile. It was a well-hit ground ball," Fernandez said. "It's sad. Forget about a double play, triple play or whatever. To see one of your teammates go down, nobody wants to see anybody get hurt in a Spring Training game, that's for sure, especially when you're competing for a job."
After the injury, Fernandez regrouped, and he finished his day after tossing a perfect sixth inning.
Fernandez praised the game-calling of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
"Salty was incredible behind the plate," Fernandez said.
Against a powerful Cardinals lineup, Fernandez gave up three runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. More important, he boosted his pitch count to 88 with 55 strikes. He's pretty much ready to go past 90 pitches and be close to 100 for Opening Day.
Facing some adversity should benefit Fernandez. In the fifth inning, he had to make meaningful pitches out of the stretch.
"I wouldn't call that a struggle," manager Mike Redmond said. "You're going up against one of the best lineups in the National League. I think it's good for anybody to have to pitch out of some jams and get some guys on base, and go through the adrenaline of pitching with guys in scoring position. I think that's good. I think that made him better today."
Fernandez has one more Grapefruit League start on Tuesday, again against the Cardinals. From there, the 21-year-old is lined up for Opening Day on March 31 against the Rockies at Marlins Park.
"I gave up three runs, and I'm not upset at all," Fernandez said. "I think I commanded my pitches well."