Fernandez takes 1-0 duel over Wood

Caption
Wood on duel vs Fernandez

Jose Fernandez saved the electricity for his pitches Tuesday night in his first start against the Braves since inciting a benches-clearing confrontation last September.

He showed exactly how devastating he can be when his focus is only on the hitters. Fernandez matched his career-high with 14 strikeouts, making a 1-0 lead stand up on Alex Wood on a night when the Braves young left-hander was nearly as nasty.

Wood had a career-high 11 strikeouts of his own but settled for his second straight 1-0 loss.

“It sucks to be on the wrong end of it, but from a pitching standpoint it doesn’t get any more fun than that – I think he’ll probably tell you the same thing,” said Wood, now 2-3 despite a 1.54 ERA. “That’s like going back to your high school days when you match up against your rival across town.”

With two young pitchers projected to star in this division for a while, Tuesday figured to be the start of something special.

By the time Steve Cishek and David Carpenter put the finishing touches on the ninth inning, the two teams had piled up 28 strikeouts, the most combined in a game without any walks since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez considers it the best pitched game he’s seen in person since Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game against Josh Johnson and the Marlins in 2010, when he was managing in Florida.

“(Fernandez) faced nine hitters – not counting Woody, but (with pinch hitting Ryan) Doumit, professional hitters,” Gonzalez said. “And they’re coming back shaking their heads. I’m sure their side was saying the same thing about Woody. It just happened that the two hits he gave up out of the four were back-to-back.”

Wood was left shaking his head after Giancarlo Stanton doubled on a changeup off the plate with one out in the fourth. Casey McGehee followed with a single up the middle to score Stanton for the game’s only run. The other two hits Wood gave up were on bunt singles.

“That ball is two inches off the plate,” Wood said. “For him to get that good a wood on it and pull it down the line like that, you don’t get any better than that from a hitting standpoint. You can’t take it back because it was a good pitch.”

Wood might have lacked about 5-7 mph on his fastball, compared to Fernandez’s, but he attacked hitters with the same ferocity. He threw 75 of his 101 pitches for strikes, commanding all three of his pitches, and walked none.

Yet Wood dropped a second straight 1-0 game, after losing last Thursday to A.J. Burnett and the Phillies by the same score. He allowed only the one run in eight innings and it wasn’t enough to top Fernandez.

Chris Johnson singled to right field to lead off the eighth to break up a streak of 11 in a row retired by Fernandez, including five in a row at one point, via strikeout. Johnson’s hit was the Braves’ first since Jason Heyward took Fernandez to the opposite field for line drive to lead off the game.

“Anything off that guy, anything in play is good, right?” said Johnson, who said it was the best pitching performance he’s ever faced. “All kidding aside, if you square a ball up off that guy, you go back to the dugout feeling, ‘All right, cool.’”

Fernandez responded to Johnson’s leadoff hit in the eighth by retiring Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis on strikeouts, leaving a solitary Braves fan of the 18,275 at Turner Field at Turner Field to implore Andrelton Simmons to “do something!” with his next at-bat.

Simmons responded by beating out an infield hit to move a Braves runner into scoring position for only the second time on the night and the first without the benefit of a balk. Fernandez coaxed a groundout from Doumit to end the threat.

Not only had the Marlins’ 21-year-old right-hander been bringing his usual heat – touching 99 mph on the radar gun by the second inning – he was commanding his devastating breaking ball.

Fernandez got Justin Upton to swing and miss at one sweeping out of the strike zone, and then left Uggla frozen at the plate, watching a third strike breaking ball catch the plate.

“Both sides of the dish, 99 (mph), slider,” Johnson said. “It feels like it’s starting in their dugout and ends up on the outside corner.”