MIAMI-- Jose Fernandez appeared on the verge of his first major-league career complete game.
Sure, the Miami Marlins had been very protective of their All-Star with the golden arm, saying the rookie's season would end after he throws 150-170 innings.
But on Sunday, Fernandez had struck out 13 Pirates through eight innings 13 Ks!
Plus, Pittsburgh had managed just five hits and trailed the Marlins 3-2 thanks to Giancarlo Stanton's go-ahead home run in the sixth.
Despite the double-digit strikeouts, Fernandez's pitch count was at 97 including 74 for strikes! Allowing no walks tends to reduce the number of pitches.
The moment seemed to call for the right-hander to return to the mound albeit with a very short leash. If one Pirate reached base, he'd be yanked.
In reality, manager Mike Redmond already had decided Fernandez was a goner.
"I told him, 'I'm going out,' " Fernandez said. " 'He said, 'We'll see.'
"In my mind, I was ready to go out there in the ninth. They decided not to let me. I went to (Redmond) and said, 'Hey, I know what you're doing, so its fine.' "
Marlins closer Steve Cishek jogged in from the right-field bullpen and began to warm up. As the stadium's video screen announced Fernandez had set a team single-game rookie record for strikeouts, it also showed the youngster standing in the Marlins dugout.
Most of the announced 24,207 fans cheered as the rookie waved his hand in acknowledgment.
After Cishek quickly retired Jose Tabata on a ground out, TV cameras showed a cap-less Fernandez standing against the dugout rail clapping enthusiastically.
But when Neil Walker singled, a cloud of concern formed beneath the Marlins Park roof.
"A second-guesser's dream, today, Redmond said. "I said on the bench, 'Man, these guys are going to be all over me.' "
Cishek induced a fly out from Pedro Alvarez but walked Russell Martin on a 3-2 pitch to put Pirates on first and second with two outs.
That cloud had intensified.
No worries, though. Garrett Jones grounded out to second to end the game.
Cishek not only earned his 22nd save (in 24 tries), he saved Redmond from being roasted by fans and media.
"I sat there, and it took me a while to decide," Redmond said of pulling Fernandez. "(Pitching coach) Chuck Hernandez and I talked and it made sense today we developed two guys. We developed a pitcher and we developed a closer.
"Where we're at as a team and as an organization, Ill take that."
In improving to 7-5 with a 2.71 ERA, Fernandez defeated Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 when the Marlins ace was 14th overall.
"He's a great pitcher. He's a first-rounder for a reason and hes doing well for a reason," Fernandez said of Cole. "His stuff is pretty good. I saw it when I was hitting. I didn't like it."Pirates hitters likely were saying similar things about Fernandez, who'll turn 21 on Wednesday.
"He came out throwing 99 mph in the first, that was impressive, Redmond said of his young star. "I knew this was kind of a statement game where he knew he was going up against another solid pitcher and he wanted to outdo him."
After allowing Pittsburgh to score twice and take a 2-0 lead in the second, Fernandez proceeded to strike out nine of the next 11 batters he faced.
It was such domination, and allowing two hits between innings Nos. 3-8, that seemed to comprise a strong message: Fernandez should start the ninth.
Redmond didn't get the text.
"It's easy for people to say, 'Hey, let him go out there and throw 118-120 pitches and grind through and get a complete game,' " Redmond said. "And, when I say that, his day is coming for (complete games). When you think of (Detroits Justin) Verlander and all these guys, that's going to happen.
"He probably could have gone out there and finished this game, but at the same time, Cishek has done a great job for us, too. In the development process, he needs to go out there and pitch in those situations, too."
Charlie McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas