When healthy, Jose Fernandez is one of Major League Baseball’s most intimidating hurlers. The 22-year-old Miami Marlins’ righty posted a 12-6 record with a 2.19 ERA in 2013. His WHIP was 0.98 and he piled up 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings pitched.
In 2014, though, Fernandez walked a different path, hence the ‘when healthy’ moniker. He required Tommy John Surgery and was limited to 51 2/3 frames. His numbers were still masterful: 2.44 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 70 strikeouts. But serious elbow strain on a 22-year-old is definite cause for concern.
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According to multiple reports, Fernandez is expected to return around June of the upcoming season. He’ll be joining the resurgent Marlins who have signed Giancarlo Stanton long-term and brought in key contributors such as Dee Gordon and Mat Latos. If Fernandez does return in June, how will he perform? And can he bounce back to healthy dominance?
With at least two full months of the season missed, Miami won’t have to worry about overworking Fernandez. He’ll likely be limited to five or six innings per start as he regains his previous form. As the Marlins make what they hope to be a playoff push in September, Fernandez might return to being a seven inning, 10 strikeout type of starter.
There’s a single aspect that might derail this mission, though. Fernandez both throws hard and tosses a mixture of pitches characteristically hard on a pitching arm. Fernandez throws a combination of his slider and curveball about 37% of the time. His 95 mph heater is thrown about every other pitch. A hard, heavy breaking ball hurler at 22-years-old coming off a surgery that’s been a death blow to various pitchers? That’s ominous.
Fernandez, if anything, is a fierce competitor. He’s crafty on the mound. This is where positivity exists. Don’t rule out the Marlins’ ace adapting to protect himself. If the Scott Boras client wants mammoth money when his open market availability is seized, he can’t lose all of his bullets prior to hitting his mid-20s. There’s nothing wrong with living in the 93 mph range in 2015 and relying more heavily on his changeup.
If Fernandez holds back slightly, he can still be an elite machine while also keeping an eye on the future. This is his primary hope of bouncing back. If he’s gunning cheese in the high-90s and overusing his curveball, don’t be shocked if Fernandez becomes reacquainted with the DL.
This would be devastating because both the Marlins and the game need Fernandez. He’s exciting. His style is flashy. Part of that Pedro Martinez swagger is etched in his blood. With complaints of baseball being too slow and games being uneventful, Fernandez is that rare ace who draws an audience. He and Stanton can make magic in Miami if health allows.
To answer the question, of course Fernandez can bounce back. Tommy John Surgery isn’t quite the career destroyer that it once was. The youngster will be handled with kid gloves by Miami’s management team. He, along with Stanton, represent hope for a city seeking renewed baseball relevance. Here’s to hoping Fernandez is sharp upon his possible June comeback. The game awaits his return to greatness.