When last we saw Jose Fernandez doing what he does best, throwing a baseball, he was serving up a grand slam in San Diego, his golden arm throbbing with pain and numbness.
It turned out to be his final big-league pitch before undergoing surgery to replace his elbow ligament — Tommy John surgery. Now, some 414 days later, he returns.
Fernandez will take the mound Thursday afternoon at Marlins Park for the first time since injuring his arm on May 9, 2014. He will have a new elbow ligament, a clean slate — the bases will be empty for him when he steps on the rubber for the first time — and a stomach full of butterflies.
“I know I have to stay calm,” Fernandez said on Wednesday. “But probably it’s going to be really hard. I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’ve got to control my emotions as best I can, but there’s going to be emotions.”
Fernandez said he thought he would have a hard time sleeping Wednesday, the night before the game.
“No chance,” he said. “I don’t think I will. I think it’s going to be a tough night’s sleep.”
Manager Dan Jennings refused to disclose whether Fernandez would be kept to a strict pitch count, saying only that “he’ll be on the common-sense count.”
But common sense in most cases involving players returning from Tommy John suggests the Marlins’ 22-year-old phenom won’t be going nine innings. Not initially.
The most pitches he threw in any of his minor-league rehab starts were the 90 he tossed Saturday in Jacksonville, and Fernandez said he expects to throw anywhere from 90 to 95 pitches Thursday, depending on the situation.
“[Thursday] should be a fun day for everybody,” Jennings said. “For South Florida, for this organization, for this team, but most importantly for Jose. He’s worked extremely hard to get back to this place, this opportunity, and I think it’s great for baseball. He’s truly one of the faces of the game with his energy.”
Fernandez has never lost at Marlins Park, where he has gone 12-0 with a 1.09 ERA in 20 career starts. Partly as a result, and with an off day looming, Jennings said that Fernandez would likely make his second start on July 9 — on six days’ rest — at Marlins Park when Cincinnati arrives for a four-game series.
BACK TO THE MINORS?
When Fernandez is activated Thursday, the odd man out in the rotation could be rookie Jose Urena. Jennings revealed that Jarred Cosart would return to the rotation on Saturday in Chicago.
Rather than move Urena to the bullpen and use him in long relief, the Marlins would prefer keeping him stretched out as a starter, which likely signals a return to Triple A New Orleans.
Cosart last started for the Marlins on May 13 before landing on the disabled list with vertigo.
▪ Thursday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (2015 debut) vs. San Francisco Giants RHP Matt Cain (2015 debut), 12:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Friday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (6-4, 3.66 ERA) at Chicago Cubs (TBA), 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field.