Though it’s all but a foregone conclusion, Don Mattingly isn’t ready to announce Jose Fernandez as his Opening Day starter. But the new manager of the Marlins made one thing clear: He wants Fernandez on the mound for him at the end of the season in September — and, hopefully, into October and the playoffs.
That means whatever plan is devised for Fernandez to manage his usage and protect his arm will be one that ensures there will be no late-season controversy, as there was last year with New York Mets hurler Matt Harvey.
The Marlins intend to sit down with Fernandez, his doctors and agent Scott Boras during spring training to come up with a usage program for the team’s undisputed ace, who is less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched a full season since 2013.
“I just want it to be open and know, as we start the season, let’s have a plan so we don’t get into September and say, ‘We’re in the hunt, but we’re out of innings,’” Mattingly said. “Let’s have a plan going forward.”
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The Marlins will likely come up with a rough number on the innings Fernandez will be allowed to pitch — “180 is the number I’ve heard,” Mattingly told reporters Wednesday — yet remain flexible on how that number is attained.
“How do you get there?” Mattingly said. “Is it 180 rough, hard-fought innings? Are there going to be easy innings in there? Do you give him extra rest as much as you can? Again, we haven’t gotten into the plan.”
Fernandez said he would prefer that there not be an unbendable innings restrictions limit placed on his arm. Rather, he said he would prefer to work within a “range” of maximum innings.
“I feel like there shouldn’t be a set innings limit because you are different than me, and [Tom] Koehler throws different than me, and [Matt] Harvey is different,” Fernandez said.
But Fernandez is aware that his usage will be closely monitored and is open to adjustments throughout the season.
“I’m looking forward to pitching every five days,” Fernandez said. “I can’t tell you a number. I heard something about [180 innings]. I haven’t talked to my doctor, so I can’t tell you 179 or 210. But, whatever it is, we’ll figure it out.”
Fernandez has only once thrown a complete season in the majors when he totaled 172 innings as the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2013. He missed chunks of the 2014 and ’15 seasons after undergoing ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, totaling just 116 innings over those two seasons. (Counting his minor-league rehab outings, he totaled 89 innings last season alone.)
“We have a tentative plan in place,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “We’re going to use common sense. We have a range in mind. We’ll watch for stressful innings and make decisions accordingly.”
Fernandez said he is simply looking forward to starting the season with the club, something he was unable to do last year as he worked his way back from arm surgery.
Fernandez has already thrown seven bullpen sessions and is excited for Friday, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Jupiter.
“I’m ready to go,” Fernandez said. “I want to pitch. I think I’m exactly where the team wants me to be.”
▪ Mattingly said he flew to California in January specifically to meet and talk with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and A.J. Ramos. He also flew to Miami from his home in Indiana last month to visit with Fernandez.
“You want to know your guys,” Mattingly explained.
“You want to hear what they say. I want to be able to talk to enough guys to get a good feel for what’s going on.”
▪ Though there has been discussion that the Marlins could use a platoon at first base, Mattingly said that, until proven otherwise, he views Justin Bour as his every-day first baseman.
“I want to go in thinking that Justin is my first baseman,” Mattingly said. “I love his swing and what he’s capable of. I don’t think we should limit him and say ‘This guy can’t hit lefties.’”
Bour struggled against lefties last season but hit right-handers extremely well. Mattingly didn’t dismiss the idea of using Chris Johnson at first from time to time.
“Do we want to be able to keep Chris sharp and give guys rest? Absolutely,” Mattingly said. “There may be some (pitchers) out there where you’ll think, this is not a good day for Justin. That doesn’t mean he’s a platoon guy for me.”