It was learned earlier this week that the 2014 season is likely over for Miami Marlins’ pitcher and 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, Jose Fernandez. In his last start against the San Diego Padres, Fernandez tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm and could be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.
Prior to a sluggish start against the Padres on Friday, Fernandez was in the midst of what could have been a Cy Young campaign in 2014. Fernandez began the season 4-1 with a 1.74 ERA and still currently leads the National League in strikeouts with 70.
Through 40 games, the Miami Marlins have proven to be a gritty, resilient bunch, but the loss of Fernandez could simply prove to be too much for the Fish to overcome. Fernandez not only gives the club a quality start virtually every time he pitches, but he also eases the pressure on the rest of the rotation, the bullpen and the lineup.
Although Fernandez is the unquestioned ace of the Marlins’ staff, the rest of the rotation has been fairly solid as well this season. Tom Koehler and Nathan Eovaldi both have earned run averages under three while Henderson Alvarez is one of just two big league pitchers to throw a pair of shutouts to this point in 2014.
Fernandez’s spot in the rotation will be assumed on Wednesday by Anthony DeSclafani, a rookie making his big league debut. While Miami has high long-term hopes for DeSclafani, his odds of getting similar results to Fernandez are slim. It also remains to be seen whether or not DeSclafani can hold that spot in the rotation and if Miami has to go with a guy like Brad Hand or Kevin Slowey, the Marlins will be down a man in the bullpen.
Not having Fernandez out there once every fifth day will also put additional pressure on the rest of the rotation. While Koehler, Eovaldi and Alvarez are all off to fantastic starts, Fernandez has served as the club’s stopper. The absence of Fernandez will make halting long losing skids even more of a task.
Fernandez’s ability to eat innings could prove detrimental to perhaps Miami’s weakest unit — the bullpen. Fernandez has pitched into at the least the seventh inning in five of his eight starts this season and 12 of his last 18 dating back to last season. While Steve Cishek has remained dependable at the back end, the Marlins’ bullpen as a whole ranks just 12th in the National League with a 4.15 ERA. Losing Fernandez for the season almost assuredly means more innings from the pen.
Fernandez without a doubt eases the pressure on the rest of the rotation and the bullpen, but when he’s on the mound, the lineup’s job is much easier as well. Over Fernandez’s 36 starts at the big league level, Miami has lost just twice when scoring more than three runs.
When Fernandez is on the hill, the Marlins’ offense knows that it doesn’t have to put up big numbers to have a chance to win. Earlier this season, Fernandez needed just a single run of support in a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves. When Fernandez is on his game, manager Mike Redmond can be much more inclined to play small ball rather than shoot for the big inning. Though Miami is a much improved bunch offensively compared to last season, they didn’t always have to be when Fernandez’s spot in the rotation came up.
While Fernandez’s UCL tear will likely sideline him for the remainder of the 2014 season, having his infectious personality on the bench and around the clubhouse will be a plus. Replacing his production on the mound however, will be no small task.
The addition of key veterans this offseason has brought much needed leadership to a young team and it has certainly paid dividends early on as the Marlins are a surprising 20-20 nearly a quarter of the way through the season. For Miami to overcome the loss of Fernandez, it will need every bit of that veteran leadership.
The loss of Jose Fernandez greatly hinders Miami’s odds of remaining relevant into the latter parts of the season, but how Fernandez recovers from potential Tommy John Surgery is perhaps the bigger concern. This may be Fernandez’s biggest bout with adversity as far as baseball is concerned, but defecting from Cuba at a young age has helped give the young right-hander an “anything is possible” mentality. Fernandez appears to have the mental makeup to overcome trying times, but his UCL tear leaves the Marlins’ seemingly bright future just slightly more in question.