Get ready for Fernandezmania. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a 19-year-old lefthanded pitcher shooting up through their farm system faster than a Minuteman missile. And about as destructive, too. Sid Fernandez was born in Hawaii, made his professional debut last year in Canada, began this season in Vero Beach, Fla. and last week was mowin' 'em down in Albuquerque. Next stop: Dodger Stadium.
After beating Tucson 4-3 last week on a six-hitter in which he struck out 10, Fernandez' professional credentials stood at 175? innings, 288 strikeouts, 74 walks, a 15-2 record and a 1.84 ERA. When the Dodgers drafted him in the third round out of Honolulu's Kaiser High two years ago, he was just another prospect. Now he's being called the second coming of (pick one): a) Fernando Valenzuela; b) Vida Blue; c) Sandy Koufax.
Fernandez is the son of a fourth-generation Hawaiian father and a Portuguese mother who stand 5'8" and 5'5", respectively. Sid is 6'3", 215 pounds, down from 240 last year. He wears it well despite thickness through his middle (see a). His face is somehow familiar—a melding of Errol Flynn, Warner Oland and John Candelaria. His style is unfamiliar. It isn't so much how fast Fernandez throws the ball (the mph ranges from the high 80s to low 90s) as how he throws the ball fast. "His release point is so low, it is almost impossible to pick up," says Ben Wade, director of Dodger scouting.
At the end of Fernandez' delivery, his neck is bent and his head juts out like a gargoyle's. "He gets so low he drags the instep of his left foot," says Albuquerque Pitching Coach Brent Strom. "He goes through shoestrings like water."
Fernandez' fastball doesn't rise; it beams up. Says Strom, "Our catcher, Don Crow, says that when Fernandez starts the fastball out at the ankles, it ends knee-high, and if he starts it knee-high, it comes in waist-high. Most guys work down through the strike zone. Sid works up."
And he works up fast. Fernandez went 5-1 with a 1.54 ERA at Lethbridge in the rookie Pioneer League last year. In his final three games there, he struck out 18, 21 and 18 batters.
Then he returned to Kailua, on the windward coast of Oahu. For a week he feasted on sashimi and prepared for the Arizona Instructional League. In March, Fernandez reported to Vero Beach of the Class A Florida State League, where he went 8-1 with a 1.91 ERA. Among his wins: two no-hitters, one one-hitter, one two-hitter and one three-hitter.
Fernandez had retired 48 men without a hit for Vero Beach, including a concluding no-hitter against Fort Lauderdale, when he joined Albuquerque to become the most phenomenal pheenom on a team studded with them. Wade says flat out, "He's the best-looking young lefthander I've ever seen."
Normally, the arrival of a fastball pitcher, even one with the credentials and reputation of Fernandez, wouldn't cause much of a ripple at the Class AAA affiliate. After all, Albuquerque's Sports Stadium is a hitter's paradise. And these are the Dukes, or, if you want to talk heat, the Nukes, the most prolific missilesearers in minor league ball.
Michael (Tack) Wilson was hitting .426 when he was benched for 12 straight games because the Dodgers' rookie outfielder, Ron Roenicke, needed to play somewhere. At week's end Outfielder Candy Maldonado had a .321 average, 16 homers and 61 RBIs. Outfielder Mike Marshall, the minor league Player of the Year in 1981, was hitting .390. Marshall moved from first base to the outfield this season to make room at first for Greg Brock, who had 77 RBIs and 23 homers. It was Brock who was lofting a grand slam toward Sante Fe when Fernandez landed in Albuquerque on June 10.