Jose Fernandez's second season in the major leagues was cut short after tearing a ligament in his elbow in what would ultimately be his final start of last season in early May. The Marlins promising, young ace underwent Tommy John surgery on May 16.
The usual timetable for recovery from Tommy John surgery is about a year to a year-and-a-half. The Marlins front-office stated, for most of the offseason, that they were targeting Fernandez to return sometime around the All-Star break, which is July 13-16. Marlins General Manager, Dan Jennings, was recently a host on MLB Network radio and had this somewhat surprising news about the possible return date of Jose Fernandez:
"I think that's going to be in large part once we go to camp he's going to start on the mound. He'll start his progression there and then there will be a rehab assignment of which depending on where that is. I'm sure there will be some down arm period, dead arm period. So somewhere between that 15th of June, 15th of July is realistic."
The sooner that Fernandez is able to return for the Marlins, the better chance they will have at getting themselves into the playoffs for the first time in eleven years. The Marlins are not going to rush Fernandez back, but if Jose was able to return a month earlier than originally expected, it would allow the Marlins to get their ace an extra three or four starts, which could prove to be significant down the stretch.
Regardless of when Fernandez returns to rotation, whether it be June 15 or after the All-Star break, the Marlins are going to have to keep themselves near of the top of the standings in Fernandez's absence.
To keep themselves in the playoff picture, the Marlins are going to need the entire rotation to step-up in Fernandez's absence. The Fish are going to ask of Henderson Alveraz to be their fill-in-ace and carry over his All-Star performance from 2014 where he posted a 12-7 record to along with a 2.65 ERA and had three complete-game shutouts. The Marlins will also need the middle of the rotation, in Matt Latos and Jarred Cosart, to carry over their strong performances from last season.
Tom Koehler, who Jose Fernandez projects to replace in the rotation when he returns, entered last season as the Marlins fifth starter, but ended the season as, arguably, their second best pitcher after a surprising season where he posted a 10-10 record and a 3.81 ERA. Koehler enters this season with the same role as he did last year, but I think the Marlins would be very satisfied if he could duplicate his performance from last season.
A wild-card in the Marlins rotation could be Dan Haren. Although he only projects to be a back of the rotation pitcher, Haren still holds value as a durable veteran arm. Haren has logged at least 169 innings in each of the past 10 seasons and, although his ERA has been on the plus side of four the past three seasons, he has also reached double digit wins in each season over that timeframe as well.
One of Haren's biggest issues in the past couple of years has been giving up home-runs, as he gave up 27 long balls last season, which was tied for third most in the majors. So, assuming Haren reports to camp and is still a Marlin come Opening Day, he could benefit from pitching in a more spacious ballpark in Marlins Park. He may not be top of the rotation pitcher he used to be, but Dan Haren has the potential to be a serviceable arm in the back of the rotation.
The Marlins were 20-17 last season when Fernandez went down, and finished the season with a .456 winning percentage (57-68). This year's rotation has a nice mix of young and veteran arms, and it definitely has the potential to be able to hold-up without Jose for the first half of the season. So with a revamped rotation and lineup, it would seem reasonable for the Marlins to be able to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot until Fernandez can return.
The Marlins are definitely going to act on the side of caution with their young ace. While they have playoff aspirations this season, and Jose Fernandez plays an integral role in those aspirations, the Marlins will not rush Jose back to the mound. Although, with Fernandez's passion for the game and itch to get back on the field, it will most likely be the Marlins keeping Jose from rushing back to the mound.