Fernandez Returns to Lead the Fish

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If Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez is having any problems after returning from Tommy John surgery that cost him most of the first half of the 2015 season, he sure isn’t showing it. Fernandez, one of the best young pitchers in baseball, will face the Phillies on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park in just his third major league start in more than a year.

Before the elbow injury he suffered in May of 2014 that eventually led to elbow reconstruction surgery, Fernandez was already a proven top of the rotation starter for the Fish, quickly establishing a superstar status around baseball.

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The Marlins took Fernandez with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur draft out of Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa, Fla. The Santa Clara, Cuba native breezed through the Marlins minor league system, needing all of 27 games combined over his 2011 and 2012 seasons before he would unexpectedly make the Marlins roster out of spring training in 2013 following injuries to pitchers Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez. He would make his major league debut on April 7, 2013, tossing five solid innings of one-run ball, allowing three hits and striking out eight in a no-decision.

It was in that rookie season of 2013 that Fernandez would take Major League Baseball by storm and blossom into one of the most feared pitchers in the game. Entering the season as the second youngest player in the game at the age of 20 (behind only the Nationals’ Bryce Harper), Fernandez went 12-6 with a remarkable 2.19 ERA in 28 starts.

His 2013 ERA of 2.19 was second-best in all of MLB, and in 172.2 innings pitched, Fernandez struck out an impressive 187 batters. His 0.98 WHIP ranked fourth in the game, and was the best among rookie pitchers. He made his first All-Star game, won two NL Player of the Week Awards, and two Rookie of the Month Awards.

By the end of his outstanding rookie season, he had added to his stockpile of hardware, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award, finishing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

Fernandez had become a superstar in South Florida, and helped the Marlins boost their typically low attendance numbers by bringing in fans who wanted to see the native Cuban pitch. With all the success Fernandez had in 2013, many people expected him to be even more dominant with a season under his belt in 2014.

Sadly, hopes were dashed when Fernandez had to leave a start against the San Diego Padres on May 9th after surrendering five earned runs on six hits, including two home runs in five innings of work. Originally diagnosed as an elbow strain, it was determined that Fernandez would need surgery to repair the elbow, and with that, his 2014 season was done.

Fernandez had been pitching very well prior to the injury. In eight starts, he went 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA, notching 70 punchouts in 51.2 innings. The loss also proved to be detrimental to the Marlins as a team. Sitting in first place in the NL East at the time of Fernandez’s injury at 20-16, they stumbled the rest of the way and ended the year with a 77-85 record, and a fourth place finish in the division.

A little more than a year removed from that May 2014 outing against the Padres, Fernandez returned to pitching competitively this June to make five minor league rehab starts. He finally made his big league return on July 2 against the San Francisco Giants, scattering seven hits and three runs over six innings. While clearly not on top of his game, he still struck out six, and took home his first victory in a 5-4 Marlins’ victory. He even hit a home run off Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain.

Afterwards, he talked to reporters about getting another chance to pitch in the big leagues again. 

I got a little emotional before I threw the first pitch,” said Fernandez. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it, that life had given me another chance to be on the mound, given me another chance to do what I love. I almost teared up before I threw the first pitch.

In his latest outing on July 9, Fernandez looked much like the 2013 Rookie of the Year, pitching seven scoreless innings and striking out nine for his second win in as many starts.

Fernandez has shown that velocity hasn’t been an issue since returning from his surgery. His fastball has averaged 94.9 mph and maxed out at 98.7 mph. Those numbers are on par with what he showed in his previous two MLB seasons, according to FanGraphs.

With his killer curveball and excellent changeup, Fernandez still holds the weapons to return to the all-star form he reached two years ago. And at just 22 years old, Fernandez will be a force to be reckoned with in the National League East for quite a long time.

Fernandez will face the Phillies on Friday as the Fish begin a three-game series in Philadelphia. In four starts against the Phillies, Fernandez is 1-1 with a 2.86 ERA. In his last start against the Fightins on April 11, 2014, Fernandez gave up six earned run on eight hits and four walks in a 6-3 Phillies win.

Out of the current Phillies, Freddy Galvis has had the most success of the Marlins righthander, with three hits in six at-bats. Ryan Howard is 1 for 9 off Fernandez with four strikeouts, while Ben Revere and Domonic Brown are both 1 for 8 off him.

First pitch at The Bank is set for 7:05 Friday night.

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