Sporting his trademark smile and a sling for his surgically repaired throwing arm, Jose Fernandez was so happy to be back with his teammates on Tuesday at Marlins Park it had him in a joking mood.
“I’m excited. I’m throwing a bullpen [Wednesday],” the 21-year old ace told reporters Tuesday, the first time he has spoken to the media since undergoing Tommy John surgery last week in Los Angeles.
Fernandez, of course, isn’t pitching anytime soon. The 2013 National League Rookie of the Year and staff ace will be out for the next 12 to 18 months.
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He’s going back to Los Angeles next week to have the cast removed. And then the long road to recovery begins.
Although he was smiling Tuesday, there is little doubt Fernandez feels like he let his teammates down. And in the end, he might have.
According to Fernandez, he first “felt a little pinch” in his elbow “in the fifth or sixth inning” of his start against the Dodgers on May 4. Fernandez, though, said nothing to his teammates or coaches.
Fernandez said he felt fine after throwing his usual bullpen session after that start, but went into his next start May 9 in San Diego “knowing I wasn’t 100 percent.”
“I don’t remember what pitch, [but it was] nothing I hadn’t felt before,” Fernandez said of the pinch. “Pitchers feel that all the time when they throw hard stuff.”
Why didn’t he let the Marlins know he wasn’t 100 percent before his start in San Diego? “Because we were in first place,” Fernandez explained.
“I know health and all that stuff comes first for some people. For me, my team comes first. That’s who I am. I wish I could change it. Hopefully I’m going to learn from it. [But] I’m still happy with the way I made the decision.”
Fernandez said he never believed he was seriously injured — even after he felt the pinch again in the third inning at San Diego. At worst, he said, he thought he would be out a month. But when an MRI revealed his ligaments “came off my bone completely... it was no choice but doing [the surgery],” Fernandez said.
Fernandez’s Tampa-based attorney Ralph Fernandez said in a statement released the day of Fernandez’s surgery that a line drive that struck the pitcher in the May 4 game against the Dodgers “prompted a completely unanticipated change in delivery” that led to a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
But Fernandez on Tuesday shot that theory down. He said he had no idea his attorney, no relation, had released the statement until a day later. He also said he didn’t feel a change in his delivery until he tried to hide it after the third inning against the Padres.
“It’s tough that happened, nobody can take it back,” Fernandez said of his attorney’s statement. “It’s nobody’s fault. I don’t blame … it happened. Sad that it did. But I don’t blame nobody. If I blame anybody, I blame myself.”
Still, Fernandez said he doesn’t regret trying to tough it out and pitch through what he simply thought was soreness.
“I don’t regret not saying anything. I think that was my call,” Fernandez said. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing. But this is my team and I give my life to my team. That was the right call.”
Marlins manager Mike Redmond said he expects Fernandez to be around for most home games. When the team hits the road, he will resume treatment.
New teammate Randy Wolf, who has undergone Tommy John twice in his career, came over to offer words of encouragement to Fernandez on Tuesday. Fernandez said he’s been leaning on Cuban and former big-league reliever Danys Baez for advice.
“I just told him to make sure he takes his time and makes sure he’s 100 percent when he gets back,” Wolf said. “Because I always cringe when I read about a guy saying he’s ahead of schedule. That’s just a recipe for disaster.”