After more than a year recovering from Tommy John surgery, Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez finally returns on July 2, and baseball is better off for it.
When the Marlins take the field on Thursday, the team, its fans, the city of Miami and Major League Baseball will all be welcoming back a very special young pitcher.
It has been well over a year since Jose Fernandez last set foot on a big league mound, but that will all be in the past when the 22-year-old phenom takes the hill against the San Francisco Giants in front of his home crowd at Marlins Park. After a long road to recovery from Tommy John surgery, Fernandez will finally be back.
Forget about being a Marlins fan – that news should excite anyone who pays attention to the game.
To say Fernandez was brilliant before being shut down last May is a drastic understatement. The kid may only have 36 career starts over the course of two seasons on his resume, but Fernandez has been nothing short of spectacular in the time he has had to work with.
He comes into Thursday’s game with a lifetime 16-8 record, 2.25 ERA, 170 ERA+, 2.60 FIP, 0.972 WHIP, and 5.9 H/9 and 10.3 K/9 ratios. In 224 1/3 innings pitched, opponents are batting just .183 against him. Sorry for the abundance of numbers, but Fernandez was just too good before going down not to share what is just a small portion of a very impressive stat sheet.
Needless to say, he made a lasting impression prior to his injury.
Of course, some are hesitant to hype up a pitcher with such a small sample size. Much of the same was true when New York Mets ace Matt Harvey returned this season. Like Fernandez, Harvey had just one full big league season under his belt before surgery. Like Fernandez, Harvey was coming back from Tommy John with just a few, but dominant, outings and statistics to his name. His numbers were nearly identical to the Marlins’ stud – 34 starts, 2.39 ERA, 237 2/3 innings, 9.9 K/9 and so on and so forth – so Harvey could be a strong example of what to reasonably expect from Fernandez.
Harvey has been very good this season, though a rough patch in which he allowed 20 earned runs over the course of four starts between May 23rd and June 10th has his numbers a tad inflated, at least by his standards. Overall, Harvey is 7-5 with a 3.08 ERA and 8.7 K/9 ratio. Most importantly, he has had zero issues when it comes to his arm and his fastball has been at 98 miles per hour since Day 1 of spring training.
Another thing to look at is the two pitcher’s body types, which happen to be very similar. While the Mets hurler has four years of age on Fernandez, the two are fairly even in terms of height and weight. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Harvey has a slight edge in the height department when compared to the 6-foot-2, 215 pound Fernandez, but aside from a few inches, the two are pretty much the same.
So, does that mean Fernandez will come back the same way Harvey did? That question is never answered until a pitcher is able to get a few starts under his belt, and even then there is always a risk of re-aggravating the original problem. At this point though, the success rate for Tommy John surgery is around 80 percent, but that only accounts for return rates. That number does not take post-return success or injuries into the occasion, though at this point there is no reason to worry.
Fernandez was inconsistent in five rehab starts prior to his much-anticipated return on Thursday. Pitching at high Single- and Double-A, he allowed 11 earned runs and 24 hits in 24 2/3 innings. While those numbers suggest there was certainly some rust, the fact the flamethrower was able to rack up 33 strikeouts and just six walks says that Fernandez still has electric stuff and sharp control over it.
That is what the fans in Miami will be hoping to see. On top of possessing elite talent, Fernandez was born in Cuba and grew up in Florida, facts which make him a cultural icon and fan favorite in the Sunshine State. In addition, it has been a nightmare of a season for a Marlins team that fully expected and made an effort to contend this year. While even a tip-top Fernandez likely cannot rescue the Marlins from their 32-46 start to the season, he could at least provide an ever-suffering fan base with something fun to watch.
If Fernandez is anything like he was before, Marlins fans will be in for one heck of a show.