Dripping wet and bent over to catch his breath, Jose Fernandez grabbed a big towel and wiped the sweat from his face, took a few seconds and stared out into the steamy March morning.
“It’s hot out there,” the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year said.
Fernandez’s alternate universe of a spring continued Tuesday. It was a long-toss day for the Marlins ace, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Fernandez made two sets of 15 throws from flat ground, then got those exhausting sprints in along the warning track of a back field. He might as well have been miles away from the action at Roger Dean Stadium and is still months away from being on the mound at Marlins Park.
“Real good. Real strong. No pain,” said Fernandez of his throwing session. “At the end of the day, that’s a good thing.”
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His magical rookie season two years ago was also a nightmare for the Marlins, who lost 100 games, and the fiery Fernandez wants to win badly for a team poised to compete for a division title. But he won’t rush things. He can’t. It’s all about the big picture.
“Being patient. Being smart,” Fernandez said of his mind-set. “My teammates are counting on me getting back here for the playoffs and, hopefully, for the World Series.”
Whenever he does return, there will be a buzz, and his batterymate will be waiting.
“I need a healthy Jose,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “We don’t want him coming back too soon, trying to be the savior. We’ve got 25 guys on this team. Everyone has to play their part.”
And Fernandez will play when he’s good and ready, refusing to set a timetable when there’s so many throwing sessions and lonely morning sprints left to do.
“I’ll come back when I’m ready to come back. Not before. Not after,” said Fernandez, who is exactly 10 months removed from the surgery.
Left fielder Christian Yelich simply shook his head when asked about Fernandez’s possible return and how it might affect a team that could be in contention, refusing to put any unnecessary pressure on a fellow face of the franchise.
“I think you’re getting way ahead of yourself. When he returns, he’s going to give us a boost. We’ll be happy to have him,” Yelich said. “It’s surgery. No need to rush him. He’ll be ready when he’s ready.”
Jarred Cosart had his second rough start in a row in his first spring with the Marlins. The right-hander, who was acquired from the Astros at the trade deadline last year, labored through 3 2/3 innings in Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean.
Cosart gave up four runs — all earned — on eight hits, walked three and struck out one. He threw a whopping 64 pitches, and only half of them were strikes. His spring ERA ballooned to 8.22 after three starts.
“He was up in the zone with the breaking balls,” manager Mike Redmond said. “He got his pitches in, but we’re getting to the stage where we have to focus on getting down in the zone. He’ll be fine.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The other half of the Marlins were in Port St. Lucie, where left-hander Brad Hand gave up two hits in four shutout innings of a 6-4 loss to the Mets. Hand walked three, struck out two and has an ERA of 2.25 in three appearances this spring. Michael Morse belted a two-run homer, his second of the spring, and is hitting .368 in his first spring with the Marlins.
▪ The Marlins trimmed three more players from their spring roster, sending left-handers Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino, and right-hander Matt Ramsey to Triple A New Orleans.
▪ Former fan favorite Mike Lowell, now an analyst for MLB Network, watched Tuesday’s game next to Redmond, his former Marlins teammate. Lowell wore the same No. 19 jersey he did for the then-Florida Marlins. Redmond said Lowell would be assisting him again for Wednesday’s game at Roger Dean against the Nationals before departing camp.
▪ The Cardinals got into the St. Patrick’s Day spirit, wearing green jersey tops. The Marlins donned their normal black jerseys.
▪ Former Dolphins executive and Jupiter resident Bill Parcells, known to make the rounds at Marlins camp in the past, attended Tuesday’s game.