So far this season, Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez has an ERA of 2.66 and 33 strikeouts in 23.2 innings including a 10 strikeout performance against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday Night. It's a proper follow up to his Rookie of the Year Award winning campaign which consisted of a 2.19 ERA and a 187/172.2 strikeout to innings ratio.
Experience and a feisty fastball/curveball combo is the commonly used reason for Fernandez evading the sophomore slump. The real reason why he is continuing his dominance is his newfound passion for cycling which has made Fernandez one of the most physically fit players in baseball.
"I feel a lot stronger this year," Fernandez said.
Fernandez wasn't just biking around south beach as a way to avoid running on a treadmills. He got leaner and lost 25 pounds of might as well have been baby fat by riding in a peloton with 50 to 200 serious cyclists for 600 miles a week throughout the offseason.
It's a full blown passion for Fernandez. He owns an S-Works road bike complete with a Garmin device that tracks his time, distance and calories. He also has a bicycle gear tattooed on his right calf.
Cycling is quite similar to pitching. Intervals are involved in both activities and the added endurance serves as an important physical asset during the late innings.
"You always want to maintain speed through the whole game and make good pitches," Fernandez said. "When you get tired, you're not going to make the same pitches you would like to make. You want to stay the same way you started the game, and by doing that you got to work hard and doing a lot of cardio would help a lot."
"It can only stand to help you the better shape that you are in cardio wise," said Fernandez's teammate Kevin Slowly. "Time that he's put in the offseason, the cardio time with the bike, I think for him, puts him in a better position."
This isn't a secret and Fernandez isn't the only pitcher with plenty of cardio endurance. The secret behind Roy Halladay throwing 42 complete games (including a no-hitter and a perfect game) from 2007 to 2011 despite being in his thirties is his offseason workout strategy that consists of him working out his legs before throwing a bullpen session so he can simulate the late innings. Cincinnati Reds pitched Johnny Cueto leads the National League in innings with 30 innings (35 strikeouts) in four starts including a complete game shutout over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night to bring his ERA to 1.50.
"You just want to stay in shape and be able to breathe when you're in the big spot and you're tired, you still got the legs are under you," said Colorado Rockies pitcher Adam Ottovino who saw Fernandez in action on Opening Day.
It's sure a lot better than the alternative: "A lack of cardio endurance could definitely result in inconsistencies later in the game," Slowly said.
Fernandez has the potential to have a very successful career similar to Halladay. However the current landscape has starting pitchers on a strict innings count and Marlins manager Mike Redmond won't likely let him loose to go the distance.