JUPITER -- For the first time in his career, Juan Carlos Oviedo will get to put on a baseball jersey with his real name on it.
And even though it will take place on a back field at the Miami Marlins’ spring training facility in front of no one other than a few minor-league development coordinators, the eight grueling months he has waited to savor it will be worth it for the 30-year-old Dominican-born relief pitcher.
“There are no words to explain how happy I am to have my father’s name,” Oviedo said Tuesday, a day after returning to South Florida with a new visa and being suspended by Major League Baseball for eight weeks for going by the assumed identity of his best friend, Leo Nunez, for the past 12 years.
“My father is gone now [he passed away in spring 2011]. But that’s what he wanted — to see that my name is Oviedo. My brothers and my mom are happy, too.”
Oviedo, who spent the past eight months in the Dominican Republic trying to resolve the identity issue, was contrite Tuesday morning about the fiasco. Wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, he answered questions in Spanish for about 10 minutes about what it was like to sit at home in the Dominican and watch his teammates on TV — admitting he often changed the channel because it was too painful.
He talked about losing his closer’s job to Heath Bell, and how he can’t wait to participate in the team’s Lo Viste hand gestures with close friends Emilio Bonifacio, Edward Mujica and Hanley Ramirez.
“They always called me to see how the process was going,” Oviedo said. “They made me feel good. I knew they supported me. Same with the people in my hometown. They always told me not to worry, believe in God, things will end up good.”
But mainly, Oviedo said, he is just focused on rejoining his teammates and getting back on the mound in the big leagues. That won’t happen again, of course, until July 23 at the earliest — the day after his eight-week suspension is set to end.
In the meantime, Oviedo will participate in extended spring training before the Marlins are allowed to send him for one rehabilitation assignment to a minor-league affiliate that cannot exceed 16 days. That is expected to happen at the end of his suspension so he can prepare for an eventual return to the team.
“His name has changed, but I’m hoping the stuff is the same. And we think it is,” said Larry Beinfest, the team’s president of baseball operations, who along with general manager Mike Hill were in Jupiter on Tuesday to accompany Oviedo.
“He has plenty of time to get ready. You can see he’s in great shape. He’ll just work backwards. Jeff Schwartz is our [Gulf Coast League] rehab coordinator, pitching coordinator.’’
Beinfest said Oviedo will work with Schwartz, pitching coach Randy St. Claire and minor-league trainer Gene Basham “and they’ll get him ready. He has a ways to go.”
Even though at times he worried his career might be over, Oviedo said he spent all of his time in the Dominican preparing for a return. He said he threw bullpen sessions, lifted weights and ran. He’ll do more of the same until he can get into some games.
“We’ll be able to create some things for him,” Beinfest said. “Obviously, not game situations. But we’ll do some simulated games. We have coordinators here on-site. We’ll have some other rehabbers here on-site.
“There’s plenty of work to be done here on-site.”
So what role will Oviedo be put in once his suspension is over? Apparently, anything but closer.
“We have a closer,” Beinfest said, referring to Bell. “I know he’s been in the news quite a bit. Did a good job [Monday]. But he’s our closer. When J.C. returns, whether it’s setup or seventh inning or specialist or whatever it is, it’s an awful good arm and he’ll find a home out there.
“And you know things happen over the course of a season. Hopefully those things won’t happen and he’ll be ready to go in a couple months and it could be a big boost. That’s an awful big arm with a lot of experience to add at the end of July.”
Acquired by the Marlins after the 2008 season in exchange for former first baseman Mike Jacobs, Oviedo ranks third all-time on the team’s saves list with 92. Last season, his 36 saves were tied for 11th in the majors and eighth in the National League.
How the Marlins use Oviedo or the fact he’ll lose about $3.6 million of the $6 million salary he was set to earn in 2012 aren’t of great concern to him. His priority is getting back on the mound.
“I was born with nothing,” Oviedo said. “I’m not thinking about any of that.”