She's Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez rolled into one, the most
dominant pitcher in softball's most formidable rotation. On the
U.S.'s 57-game tour this summer Fernandez went 10-0, threw five
straight perfect games and struck out 162 hitters in 67 innings.
The 29-year-old righthander knows how devastating even one hit
can be. In '96 in Atlanta, she had thrown 9 2/3 perfect innings
against Australia before Joanne Brown connected for her team's
sole hit, a game-deciding, two-run homer. Though the Americans
won the gold medal two games later, the mispitch prevented them
from going unbeaten at those Olympics. "It was a valuable
lesson," says Fernandez. "I learned that I need to be in the
physical and mental condition to be just as fresh in the tenth
inning as in the first."
In part by riding the stationary bike that sits at the foot of
her bed in her Long Beach, Calif., home, the 5'6" Fernandez has
trimmed 20 pounds, to 160. A weight-training program has
strengthened her abdominal and lower back muscles, which are key
in windmill pitching. As a result even her bat, which Fernandez
wields as mightily as her right arm, has improved. During the
summer tour she led the U.S. team with a .474 average. "I'm more
explosive than ever," she says. "Getting rid of that excess
baggage has made all the difference."
What Fernandez has not lost since Atlanta is unparalleled command
of her changeup, drop, rise, curve and screwball. All but the
changeup are clocked at around 65 mph--which from 40 feet is
equivalent to a 101-mph baseball pitch. No wonder she held
opposing hitters to an .029 batting average this summer.
While she praises the strong pitchers from Japan, Australia and
China, Fernandez is confident that she and the rest of the
American staff--including Lori Harrigan, Danielle Henderson,
Michele Smith and Christa Williams--will prevail in Sydney. "I
strongly feel that I am pitching better than four years ago,"
says Fernandez. That's bad news for the rest of the
COLOR PHOTO: JOE MCNALLY LEAN AND MEAN Fernandez has shed 20 pounds but lost none of the heat on her fastball, which equates to a 101-mph baseball pitch.