While everyone around the Miami Marlins has been eager for a first spring look at vaunted pitching prospect Jose Fernandez, Rob Brantly made sure he had a front-row seat.
Brantly used his leverage as the likely starting catcher to ensure he caught Fernandez's first bullpen session Tuesday. When Fernandez stepped on the mound with his group to throw, Brantly moved down the row of catchers to take the place opposite the young Cuban right-hander.
"The kid was Pitcher of the Year for a reason," Brantly said after the 10-minute session. "He came in under control. Ninety-nine percent of the pitches he threw were at my knees or right below it -- where you want it to be.
"He looks like a big-leaguer."
At 19, Fernandez is getting his first taste of a big-league camp. He appeared as comfortable on his first day as he was last season with the Class A Jupiter Hammerheads, where he was 7-1 with a 1.96 ERA.
Asked if he is ready for the next step, Fernandez said, "Big time. I've been ready. I've been waiting for big things all my life. That's what I came to the United States for, to pitch in the big leagues. It's a great feeling being this close."
Fernandez spent most of the session working on a changeup he is trying to add to his repertoire. Perfecting the changeup to go with a fastball that touches 98 mph and an effective curveball could hasten his arrival with the Marlins. He is expected to open the season at Double-A Jacksonville.
"His arm speed is consistent with all his pitches. It was real good. It was a solid bullpen," Brantly said.
Manager Mike Redmond, a former catcher, also was impressed.
"I tried to back off to the side a little bit. I didn't want to stand behind him and get him too amped up, but I was watching him," Redmond said. "He's very confident. He's got good stuff, you can tell. He has that great mound presence of a great pitcher."
Redmond recalled catching Josh Beckett's first bullpen session the spring after the right-hander was a first-round draft choice out of high school.
"I remember being impressed by his changeup. For a high school kid, he was so polished," Redmond said. "It was like, man, that's the best changeup I've ever seen from a high school guy. Then he threw a heater and hit me on the wrist, and I wasn't so impressed any more."
Fernandez is the Marlins' most highly touted pitching prospect since Beckett. He exudes a similar degree of confidence to Beckett, who arrived talking about All-Star aspirations and went on to be World Series MVP for the Marlins in 2003.
"There's a lot of talk. I said every time, I want to be the best. That's what I work for," Fernandez said. "I don't want to be the second-best, I want to be the best. It's fine, I'll work for it."
Nolasco not looking back
Veteran right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who expressed a desire to be traded after the Marlins dealt away fellow starters Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to Toronto, said he is focusing on his role as staff ace.
"I'm just moving forward. Anything that has happened in the past isn't going to be talked about any more. I'm just trying to come out and meet all of my new teammates.
"I'm not thinking about any trades or anything like that. I'm just trying to go start by start and day by day, and as much as I can help this organization to win as many games as I can."
Nolasco is in the last year of his contract, worth about $11.5 million this season.
"It is a big year," he said. "I'm just trying to stay level-headed and not put any extra pressure on myself. What happens, happens. The only thing I really want to do is stay healthy and make all my starts."
The first roster casualty was catcher Craig Tatum, a spring invitee on a minor league contract. Tatum, who last played in the majors in 2011 with Baltimore, decided to retire. There are 38 pitchers in camp and there will be 73 players total when full-squad workouts begin Friday.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge to try to get everybody in games and see guys. We'll probably have to end up playing some intrasquad games for some of the younger guys, add some B games," Redmond said.
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