Five years ago, Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez risked jail time in a Cuban prison to defect to America and pursue his dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.
He boarded a boat with his mother and sister to leave his home in Santa Clara, Cuba and start a new life in Florida.
That dream became a reality on April 7, his first game in a Marlins uniform. Now a little over a month into his professional baseball career, the 20-year-old Fernandez is fishing for his third straight win on Thursday against the Reds.
He's already struck out 39 batters in 37 innings over the first seven starts of his career, and he's pitched in four of the Marlins' 11 victories. That included his last outing, a six-inning quality start against the Dodgers where he struck out seven and allowed three earned runs to secure his team the win.
Over his last two starts, Fernandez has struck out 16 batters in 13 innings and has only surrendered a three-run home run to Adrian Gonzalez. The right-handed starter dominated the Phillies on May 4, turning in one of the best starts of his young career when he allowed just one hit in seven innings while striking out nine.
But on April 18, his only outing against Cincinnati, Fernandez struggled to find his groove and earned his first career loss. The Reds blew the game open in the fourth inning, blemishing Fernandez's line for five earned runs before he was relieved after four innings in Cincinnati's 11-1 win.
For Fernandez to avoid a loss against the Reds, the Marlins will have to score. They rank last in the Majors in runs, batting average, home runs and RBIs. To make matters even more difficult, they'll be facing Mat Latos, who's 4-0 with a 3.04 ERA in eight starts this season.
While Latos has stumbled during his first two outings in May, he's been the Reds most reliable starter since ace Johnny Cueto landed on the disabled list a month ago. In his May 5 start against the Cubs, he lasted just five innings and allowed three runs. The Brewers then tagged him for six runs and nine hits in six innings on Saturday.
But those starts aren't in line with Latos' body of work over the beginning of the season. He posted a 1.07 ERA in April and was dominant in his last start against Miami, when he tossed seven innings on April 19, allowing one run and striking out 10 batters.
If Latos can find his dominant stuff again, Cincinnati has a chance to sweep the series and win its sixth straight game before heading to Philadelphia on Friday.
That is, if the Reds can touch Fernandez. He currently has the third-most strikeouts, allowed the second-fewest hits, held opponents to the third-lowest batting average and has allowed the fewest home runs among rookie pitchers with at least five starts.
Reds: Cueto returning Monday
Johnny Cueto will be back with the Reds on Monday night in New York, where he'll start against the Mets. Cincinnati's right-handed ace didn't allow a run in his five-inning rehab start with Class A Daytona on Tuesday night. Cueto finished fourth in last year's voting for the National League Cy Young Award, but has been on the disabled list since April 15 with a strained lat muscle.
Marlins: Calm after the storm
After the Marlins' roster overhaul this past offseason that included trading the likes of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, they've turned to their farm system early on in 2013.
Miami has had 10 rookies on the roster this season, which is tied for the most first-year players with Houston and Milwaukee. The inflated number of first-year players is still only the third most in club history through 39 games. The Marlins used 18 rookies through such a stretch in 1998, and 16 in 2006.
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.