MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Things haven’t been particularly good around the Miami Marlins so far this season.
The team has struggled mightily during the first couple months of the season which led to the dismissal of manager Mike Redmond, demotion of free agent signing Michael Morse and closer Steve Cishek and the release of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
On Monday however, the Marlins got a piece of very good news.
Miami’s top pitcher, Jose Fernandez, has been rehabbing after having Tommy John surgery last June and things have been looking extremely good so far for the 22-year-old.
So good in fact that Fernandez has been cleared to begin a minor-league rehab assignment on Saturday with the Marlins’ Single-A team in Jupiter.
Fernandez pitched an extended spring training start on Monday and did quite well, throwing 42 pitches over three no-hit innings. He struck out seven batters including the final six he faced and his fastball reached as high as 97 miles per hour.
Afterwards, Fernandez said that his arm felt great.
“It’s obviously always good to have good results, but I felt great,” Fernandez said on Monday to CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald.
“I felt healthy and I felt like I belonged there on that mound. It was fun to go back out there and compete. It was a real game to me, it wasn’t just a rehab start. I was walking out and felt that game feeling inside my stomach. That’s always great.”
The Marlins still have no intention of rushing Fernandez back into action with the big club.
If all goes well during his minor-league start on Saturday, he’ll throw again for the Single-A Hammerheads six days later on June 12th.
“You have to be careful hurrying up things,” said Fernandez. “Obviously I wanted to start opening day with them. But I think the main thing here, what the team wants and what I want, they want me healthy and they want me there for the rest of the year, not one or two starts. We’re just trying to follow the process and as soon as I can get there I will be.”
As for his status after the two rehab starts, Marlins rehab pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal said on Monday that it’s likely he’ll continue to work in the minors.
“I would think he’s going to have more starts [in the minors],” said Rosenthal. “One, he’s got to go to a higher level. Two, he’s got to build up on pitches, pitch count and endurance.
“You want to try to get him, especially after surgery, probably to get him to six, seven innings just to say he can do it. When you get to the big leagues you want to be able to say you can go seven innings. If you go five and hope he can go seven, that’s not what you want after surgery.”
Whether Fernandez makes two starts in the minors or four, he’s getting very close to being able to put on his Marlins uniform once again.
His progress has been well documented. His pitches were in the mid-80s during his first rehab session last month. On Monday his fastball ranged between 94 and 97 miles per hour and his breaking pitches had batters striking out with very ugly swings.
Throughout the rehab process Fernandez has been very poised and patient, but it’s no secret that he’s chomping at the bit to rejoin his teammates in Miami.
“I think we’re just going to follow the process,” he said. “I’ve got to throw a couple more starts, and I think we’ll go from there. But today I think was a really good day. I’m actually trying to feel and think about everything that just happened [during] the last three innings. But I feel great and just glad to be here, glad to be on the mound again.”
For now, the Marlins continue to target July 1st as his return date but it’s certainly not set in stone.
Fernandez has started 36 games during his MLB career, posting a 2.25 ERA while striking out 257 hitters in 224 innings as a 20 and 21 year old.
The way that many pitchers come back from Tommy John surgery stronger than before, and the way Fernandez has looked during his limited rehab work, it seems that despite those elite numbers his best may still be yet to come.
Follow David on Twitter (@DavidDwork)