Jose Fernandez is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery — perhaps within days — after a second doctor confirmed the diagnosis of the first: a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, sources said.
Fernandez was examined in Miami on Tuesday by Dr. Lee Kaplan, the Marlins’ team physician, one day after being examined by another doctor in Los Angeles.
Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill termed the tear as “significant” and that “Tommy John surgery has been recommended.”
“Obviously a lot has gone on the past few days, a lot for him to take in, a lot to absorb, so he is taking the time digesting all the information he has been given from both doctors,” Hill said. “The sooner we can get a decision the sooner we can get surgery set up.”
Hill said it has not yet been decided who will perform the surgery.
“From what our doctors saw, they did not want to go the rehab [nonsurgical] route,” Hill said. “They felt surgery was the best option.”
The earliest Fernandez can be expected to return to the mound from elbow ligament replacement surgery is 12 months, and it could take as long as 18 months before he’s back on the mound for the Marlins.
“We’re hopeful he’ll come back and be better than ever and be comparable to the Jose we’ve seen perform in the last year,” Hill said.
Hill noted that former Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson returned in 11 months from Tommy John surgery, but cautioned that every pitcher is different.
Fernandez complained of discomfort in his elbow after pitching Friday in San Diego.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond said Tuesday it’s difficult to know what caused Fernandez’s injury, or why there has been a sudden rash of elbow injuries requiring Tommy John surgery.
“I don’t think anybody has a true answer of why,” Redmond said. “I wish we could find a reason for it because it’s sad. I wish we could figure out a way to keep these guys on the field.”
The Marlins did everything they could to protect Fernandez’s valuable arm outside of surrounding him in bubble wrap and packing peanuts:
• They capped his innings in the minors.
• They shut him down in mid-September of his rookie season.
• They never allowed him to pitch the ninth inning, ever-mindful of his pitch count.
And yet, despite all that, the 21-year-old hurler still sustained a serious arm injury after making only 36 big-league starts, eight of them coming this season.
Fernandez, who was the National League’s Rookie of the Year last season and finished third in Cy Young Award voting, lost velocity on his fastball during Friday’s outing in San Diego.
“You’re never going to replace him, but someone’s going to have to step up,” Hill said.
Hill said the organization took all the necessary steps with Fernandez to prevent an arm injury. But there is never a guarantee.
“We’ve been protective throughout the minor leagues with all of our starting pitchers,” Hill said. “We try to protect them as best we can and build them up when we get to the big leagues, and get them ready for what they’re facing.”
The Marlins are calling up Anthony DeSclafani to take Fernandez’s spot in the rotation. DeSclafani, 24, will make his major-league debut Wednesday against the Dodgers.
Scott Boras, Fernandez’s agent, said pitchers with “huge engines” like the Marlins’ ace are more susceptible to injuries. Boras cited two of his other clients — Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg — as other examples. Harvey and Strasburg have each had Tommy John surgery.
“[They] have the ability to do things beyond the levels of your durability because their talent is so high,” Boras said. “A veteran pitcher knows the boundaries of that. They have the big engines. They also have the steering wheel of experience to go with it.”