Waking up Saturday to find themselves tied for the worst record in the majors wasn’t even the most discouraging news for the Marlins.
It was discovering that pitching ace Jose Fernandez might be injured.
One day after facing the Braves and going just five innings, Fernandez showed up Saturday to Turner Field complaining of soreness in his right shoulder. He returned to Miami for further evaluation by team physician Dr. Lee Kaplan.
The Marlins don’t yet know the full extent of the injury, or how much time — if any — he will miss.
“Let’s see what it is before we speculate on something and it [turns out to] be nothing more than a little stiffness, normal stiffness a lot of guys have postgame,” Marlins manager Dan Jennings said.
Fernandez was making his seventh start on Friday since returning from Tommy John surgery. In his first six starts, he looked every bit the pitcher he was in 2013 when he was the National League’s Rookie of the Year. He had gone 4-0 with a sparkling ERA of 2.30.
But after cruising through the first three innings Friday, retiring the first nine batters he faced, Fernandez labored through a 38-pitch fourth inning in which he gave up two runs. He went back out for the fifth, retiring the side in order.
It was at that point when Jennings and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez decided not to let him go any further, basing their decision on the fact that he had thrown 112 pitches in his previous start, coupled with Friday’s grueling fourth inning.
Fernandez pleaded to continue pitching, but to no avail.
Afterward, he gave no indication to reporters that anything was wrong.
“Obviously, I want to give my team a chance to win,” Fernandez said of his desire to remain in the game. “I always want to be out there. But I think it was the right call by the manager. My two starts before this one have been long. [And] I had that long inning, 38 pitches. So why risk it?”
Jennings has said repeatedly that he would use a “common-sense” approach with Fernandez when it came to monitoring his pitch counts, rather than placing a strict limit on how many he would be allowed to throw in any given game.
When Fernandez faced the Padres on Aug.2, his pitch count after five innings was 94. But he was allowed to continue pitching through the sixth, causing the total to escalate to 112 — the second-highest figure of his career.
The only other time Fernandez threw more pitches — when he totaled 114 in a 2014 start against the Dodgers, the same game in which Fernandez injured his right elbow.
A team source said Saturday that the surgically repaired elbow is not an issue this time.
“We just want to get him seen,” Jennings told reporters on Saturday. “There was a little discomfort there. Here’s a guy who’s coming off a 14-month rehab from Tommy John. As we would do with any pitcher, we’re going to make sure before we run him back out there. And so when he had the shoulder stiffness, the decision was to get him to Miami to have a look.”
The Marlins are hoping the issue is nothing more serious than soreness that pitchers commonly experience.
“Dr. Kaplan will assess that, and we’ll know from there what we’re talking about,” Jennings said. “Until they can look at it and determine [whether] it’s a little tendinitis [or] stiffness, make that determination, and we’ll go from there.”
With two off days coming up this week, Jennings said he was already planning to push back Fernandez’s next outing to give him additional time between starts.
Now the Marlins are waiting anxiously to find out whether Fernandez will require even more time than that.