JUPITER – The Marlins announced who their starting pitcher will be on Opening Day - and it’s not Jose Fernandez.
The Marlins tabbed Wei-Yin Chen, acquired in the offseason from the Orioles, to start the first game of the season April 5 at Marlins Park, a 7:05 p.m. tilt against the Detroit Tigers.
Manager Don Mattingly said Fernandez would start the second game, a 4:55 p.m. game the following day that wraps up the season-opening two-game series with Detroit.
"We just think it sets up best moving forward for the season," Mattingly said. "Through the whole process of making sure with Jose, the pitching guys, the doctors, [Fernandez’s agent] Scott Boras, everybody is on board."
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Mattingly said the Marlins felt the move would allow Fernandez, who is nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery, to gain an extra day of rest on roughly half of starts this coming season - a strategy that could put him on pace to make around 28 or 29 starts if he stays healthy.
"We’ve been talking about this for a while," Mattingly said. "Jose wanted to be the Opening Day guy, but we felt like this was the best thing for the team moving forward. One day with days off or rest, you map it out moving forward through the whole season if it stays on that schedule over half his starts are on extra days rest."
Fernandez would likely make his second start during the team’s first road trip during a series April 11-13 against the reigning National League champion Mets in New York. The Marlins have a day off during the first three-game series of the trip in Washington.
Fernandez’s only Opening Day start came in 2014 before his injury troubles began.
Fernandez has been historically good at Marlins Park, winning the first 17 starts of his career at Marlins Park – the longest streak for a pitcher at home in the modern era - and posting a 1.40 ERA in 26 home starts.
Fernandez is hoping to pitch his first full season since 2013. After his injury cut short his 2014 season, Fernandez returned on July 2 of last season and made 11 starts, going 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA. Fernandez also suffered a bicep strain that landed him on the DL for a month after his initial return.
Fernandez said he tried to talk all parties involved into letting him start Opening Day, but said he understood the reasoning behind the team’s choice.
"Of course, everybody wants to pitch Opening Day," Fernandez said. "Every pitcher [does]. I was talking with A.J. [Ramos] and I said, ‘I think even you would like to start, even though you’re a closer.’
"It’s an amazing day. That’s when everything starts. I think that decision was made for the best team interests. I’m all on board with that. That’s pretty much it."
Fernandez said the team, his doctors and Boras via teleconference from Los Angeles came to a mutual agreement that led to the decision. Boras also represents Chen.
"We don’t have an amount of innings set," Fernandez said. "It’s pretty much 180-200. It could be less. It could be more. Everything depends. The big thing is on how I’m feeling. That was the main focus of the conversation.
"That was one of the reasons for not starting Opening Day [starts lining up with off days]. But Chen got it. We’ll win that game. It’s no big deal. He’s fantastic."
Chen, the 30-year old Taiwanese lefty would make his first Opening Day start.
The Marlins signed Chen to a five-year, $80 million deal in January with a vesting option for a sixth year.
Chen would be the second Taiwanese pitcher to ever start on Opening Day and first since Chien-Ming Wang made such a start for the Yankees in 2008.
"When Don [Mattingly] told me, I was kind of surprised that I would be the Opening Day starter," Chen said through his interpreter. "But as a starting pitcher, it’s definitely a chance you want to have. I never expected it."
The Marlins signed Chen hoping he can provide a formidable top of the rotation to complement Fernandez at the top of the starting rotation.
Chen compiled a 46-32 record the past four seasons with the Orioles with a 3.72 ERA and 1.25 WHIP.
Chen was consistent during his stint with the Orioles, making 117 starts overall and starting at least 31 games in his rookie season in 2012 and the past two seasons. He made 23 starts in 2013.
"We have a lot of great pitchers on this team and Jose is such a great pitcher," Chen said. "When I was told today, I was surprised. I’m grateful that Don had faith in me."
Fernandez said health-wise he is progressing exactly as he’d hoped so far this spring. Fernandez said he would likely meet with all parties again around the All-Star break to discuss his pitching plan by that point and how he has progressed throughout the first half.
"We did something similar last year when I was coming back, in case we made it to the playoffs, how we’d do it," Fernandez said. "I think it’s not going to be a problem.
"I don’t want to get shut down. It’s not going to happen. At the end of the day, I’m just going to be out there. I’m going to compete and I’m going to try to get people out to help my teammates. I’m not going to worry about innings limits and things like that."
Monday: Marlins RHP Jarred Cosart vs. Mets RHP Jacob deGrom, 1:10 p.m., Port St. Lucie.
Tuesday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez vs. Red Sox RHP Steven Wright, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.