MIAMI -- Jose Fernandez turned 21 on Wednesday, but his birthday is just the latest milestone he will celebrate. Fernandez has enjoyed a stellar season, earning an All-Star selection and making a push to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Although he may not have foreseen so much success in his rookie season, Fernandez always intended to celebrate his 21st birthday in the Majors.
"I wanted to be in the big leagues before I was 21," Fernandez said. "I said that all the time. I was here in the big leagues, but now I've got to set another goal."
Fernandez enjoyed a good year as a 20-year-old.
He was Miami's lone All-Star and became the youngest Marlin to ever go to the Midsummer Classic. When he entered the game, he retired American League home run leader Chris Davis and former AL MVPs Dustin Pedroia and Miguel Cabrera.
Fernandez fanned Pedroia and Davis, joining Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller as the only starting pitchers younger than 21 to strike out two or more batters in the All-Star Game.
In his most recent start, Fernandez struck out 13 batters in a win against the Pirates on Sunday, setting a Marlins rookie franchise record and becoming one of only four pitchers to ever strike out 13 or more without a walk before turning 21.
Although Fernandez will be a year older the next time he takes the mound, his approach will remain the same.
"Go out there, try to do the best I can and try to give the team a chance to win," Fernandez said. "That's what I'm here for. It's going to be fun."
Hot hitting paves way for Hech on basepaths
MIAMI -- After slumping for the season's first two months, Adeiny Hechavarria has been a different man at the plate in June and July. Hechavarria's batting average has jumped from .176 on June 3 to .240 entering Wednesday, spurred by a .324 (33-for-102) clip in July.
Offensive improvement has paved the way for Hechavarria to not only bat higher in the lineup, but to utilize his speed on the basepaths. He has stolen five bases in July after swiping only three in eight attempts in the first three months of the season.
Four of Hechavarria's steals have come in the past nine games.
"That was really the one aspect of his game that I knew that he had, but it just hasn't been able to come out yet," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "He was hitting lower in the order, and, really, he just wasn't on base."
Miami's activity on the basepaths has been moderate. The Marlins' 70 steal attempts is slightly lower than the National League average of 78.
Juan Pierre ranks 19th in the Majors with 19 steals in 25 attempts, and Justin Ruggiano ranks second on the team with 12 steals in 16 tries. But aside from those two, who haven't been playing much of late, only two other Marlins have attempted more than two steals.
Hechavarria's 15 attempts rank third, and he is perfect in five tries in July. His increased activity paid off in the Marlins' 4-2 win against the Rockies on July 23.
After reaching base with a two-out single in the third, he stole second and scored soon after on a Christian Yelich single to tie the game at 1.
"We're getting him out there, and we're trying to be aggressive," Redmond said. "Let him go and let him kind of run in counts when he feels like he wants to run. And that's how you learn in the big leagues to be aggressive."
Hechavarria's improved bat and Pierre's availability off the bench provide Miami with options. Add in the recently promoted Yelich and Jake Marisnick, and Redmond has several guys who can get into scoring position without an extra-base hit.
"Those guys, I want them to be aggressive," Redmond said. "There's going to be some times where they probably get thrown out where they shouldn't have.
"But I remember Tampa Bay, when they had [Carl] Crawford and all those young guys. Man, those guys ran wild. That's how they learned, and, eventually, you pick up counts that are really good to run and situations that really good to run in. And that's part of the learning process. So that will just continue to improve."
Qualls getting plenty of ribbing for fist-pump fall
MIAMI -- Chad Qualls shut down the Mets' offense after giving up a leadoff triple in the eighth inning of a tied game on Tuesday night. Gravity was more opportune.
When Qualls struck out Omar Quintanilla to strand runners on the corners, he unleashed a celebratory fist pump before stumbling on his way back to the dugout. Although he recovered quickly with a somersault, the damage had been done.
"I probably just went for too big of a fist pump there," Qualls said. "My ankle fully rolled, and at 245 pounds, you can't really stay up. So, I just tucked and rolled and popped up, and in my head, pretended nothing happened. By the time I got to the dugout, I was like, 'Man, that just really happened.'
"I figured it couldn't happen to a better guy, a more sarcastic guy who gives everybody [a hard time]. I've got a sense of humor, so I can just go with it. It's no big deal."
Qualls was not the only Marlin with a sense of humor about it. Teammates have poked fun at the 34-year-old veteran from the moment he returned to the dugout.
"It's the funniest thing I've ever seen on a baseball field," said starter Tom Koehler while fighting back laughter. "Without a doubt, I've never seen anything like that. I'm glad he's not hurt, but it was so funny. I can't even talk about it without laughing."
Added rookie Jose Fernandez, who turned 21 on Wednesday: "That was an amazing night. That was a nice gift. That was nice. The whole team was laughing pretty hard."
Shortly after Qualls fell, the clip went viral and also resurrected footage of another fall. In a relief appearance with the Phillies last season, Qualls made a pickoff throw to first and fell over backward on the mound.
"The past two years, I'm just prone to falling down," Qualls said.
After making the rounds on television and the web, the Marlins got in on the fun during batting practice on Wednesday, playing the clip on repeat for a couple of minutes, accompanied by Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" and classical music.
"Only a few of us will remember how big of an out that was," Miami manager Mike Redmond said. "Most of us will remember the finale to the out. It was funny. I've never seen a guy over-fist pump. He just way over-fist pumped."
• The KIA Tigers, a professional baseball team based in Gwangju, South Korea, purchased the contract of Triple-A New Orleans left-hander Duane Below on Wednesday. The deal will be finalized pending a physical.
Below is 6-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 17 starts in the Minors. He has twice been recalled to Miami this season, compiling a record of 0-1 with a 10.12 ERA in 2 2/3 innings of relief with the Marlins.
• Ed Lucas made his second career start at shortstop on Wednesday. Redmond decided to give Hechavarria the day off.
"He's been grinding pretty good not only since the All-Star break, but really since he came back being healthy," Redmond said. "Just give him a blow, a mental day, whether he feels like he needs it or not. I think he needs a break.
"We'll give him a day and get him back in there [Thursday]. Sometimes, just a day to kind of sit back and relax a little bit to re-charge your batteries helps a lot."
Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.