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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The day that Miami Marlins fans have been anxiously awaiting has finally arrived.

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Marlins ace Jose Fernandez says his long layoff was a life lesson, even if it was lousy for his career.

Veteran right-hander Matt Cain has also learned a few things during his extended time away from the San Francisco Giants.

Both pitchers make their long-awaited returns as Fernandez takes the mound opposite Cain on Thursday in the conclusion of a three-game series at Marlins Park.

Fernandez said he’s a better person for having made the taxing, tedious recovery from Tommy John surgery and he’ll now get the ball for the first time since May 9, 2014.

“I’ve been waiting 13 months,” the 22-year-old said. “If I’ve learned something, it’s how to be patient at my age.”

It’s been nearly as long a journey for Cain, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since July 9. The right-hander’s 2014 season ended when he had elbow surgery in August to remove bone chips, and he’s been out this year with a flexor tendon strain.

“It’s been a long road, but it’s going to be worth it,” Cain told MLB’s website. “It’s definitely a lot longer road than we expected. But that’s just the way it goes.”

Fernandez has always been in a hurry. He pitched only 27 games in the minor leagues, joined the Marlins (33-46) at age 20 and became NL Rookie of the Year at 21 in 2013. He was the Marlins’ opening day starter last year, but his ascent was interrupted by an elbow ligament injury that required reconstructive surgery.

Then came the wait to return. Is Fernandez proud of his patience?

“The first four months, no chance,” he said with a laugh. “Now I feel like I’ve gotten a little better, not only for pitching, but for life.”

While the World Series champion Giants (42-37) have stayed in the thick of the playoff chase despite a wave of injuries, the Marlins are hoping Fernandez can turn their season around.

Despite high expectations, they have fallen into a deep hole in the NL East and are without injured slugger Giancarlo Stanton for four to six weeks.

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At a minimum, the dynamic Fernandez should improve the mood in the clubhouse and stir fan interest. The Marlins expect a crowd of 25,000 to 30,000 for Thursday’s noon start.

“This team, this organization, this city should be excited to have a guy of his ability back in the rotation,” manager Dan Jennings said. “I know he’s excited, and we’re excited about him coming back.”

Fernandez will get six days’ rest before his second start, which is scheduled to be at Marlins Park on July 9 against Cincinnati.

Yet to be determined is how soon Fernandez might resemble the pitcher who went 16-8 with a 2.25 ERA in 36 career starts before his injury. He endured no significant setbacks during his rehabilitation.

Fernandez will be on a “common-sense” pitch count, said Jennings, who didn’t elaborate. The right-hander threw 90 pitches in his final Double-A rehab start Saturday. Backup Jeff Mathis, who has worked with Fernandez since 2013, will be behind the plate.

“To be back in that circle,” Fernandez said, “is going to be really special.”

Cain seems to have also gained a newfound appreciation for how special it is to be on the mound in a major league park.

“You get it taken away from you for an amount of time, whatever that time is, you definitely learn to appreciate it,” Cain said. “It’s supposed to be fun.”

With Cain and Jake Peavy, who has also been out with an injury, rejoining a rotation that features Madison Bumgarner, Chris Heston and Ryan Vogelsong, the second-place Giants could be poised to make a move in the NL West.

Cain is 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA in 14 starts against the Marlins, who got a three-run homer from Justin Bour in the ninth Wednesday for a 6-5 win and 2-0 lead in this series.

Fernandez has never faced San Francisco but is 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 10 career outings against NL West opponents.

Giants catcher Buster Posey left Wednesday’s game as a precaution after taking a foul ball off his mask. Posey, who was struck in the fourth and exited in the sixth, passed a concussion test and hopes to play Thursday.

“I feel good,” Posey said. “I just got my bell rung. I’ve felt it before, no headache or dizziness or anything. I just felt a little bit off.”

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