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Fernandez progressing; Marlins seek starting pitchers

Club hopes to have ace right-hander back near the All-Star break
MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

MIAMI -- All signs indicate Jose Fernandez is on schedule to return to the Marlins sometime around midseason in 2015. Until the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner is back, the organization is weighing its rotation options for next season.

At the General Managers Meetings in Phoenix next week, Miami is expected to inquire about starting pitchers available on the free-agent market, as well as trade possibilities.

MIAMI -- All signs indicate Jose Fernandez is on schedule to return to the Marlins sometime around midseason in 2015. Until the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner is back, the organization is weighing its rotation options for next season.

At the General Managers Meetings in Phoenix next week, Miami is expected to inquire about starting pitchers available on the free-agent market, as well as trade possibilities.

In the meantime, the organization is pleased with Fernandez's recovery from Tommy John surgery. The 22-year-old has been throwing regularly since Oct. 1, and the projected timeline for his big league return is around the All-Star break.

"Jose's progress has been great," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "Everything is on schedule. We're cautiously optimistic that he will be back and ready to go sometime in either June or July. But he will be back whenever he's ready to be back."

Fernandez underwent reconstructive surgery to his right elbow on May 16, and the estimated recovery time is 14 months.

Even if Fernandez was set to go on Opening Day, the Marlins still would be making starting pitching a top priority. If possible, they'd like to add a front-line starter to join Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez, an All-Star in 2014.

Video: PHI@MIA: Alvarez blanks the Phils over 7 2/3 innings

"Until Jose does return, we want to make our pitching staff as strong as can be," Hill said. "This past season, I think you saw a rotation that started off very well with a healthy Jose. When Jose went down, we had difficulty filling out a productive five-man rotation."

One of the elite young talents in the game, Fernandez did make an impact before he experienced severe elbow discomfort during his May 9 start at San Diego. It was his last appearance of the season.

Miami's rotation posted a 3.22 ERA from Opening Day through May 9, which was tied for fifth best in the NL. Without Fernandez, the revamped rotation eventually wore down. After Fernandez's injury, The Marlins' starters had a 4.28 ERA the remainder of the season, which was second worst in the NL.

Fernandez made just eight starts, and he was 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 51 2/3 innings, with 70 strikeouts.

Miami has a number of quality arms. But youth and inexperience showed, especially with Nathan Eovaldi and Brad Hand, as well as rookies Andrew Heaney and Anthony DeSclafani.

Tom Koehler stepped up and solidified a rotation spot. Jarred Cosart, acquired from the Astros in late July, was arguably the team's top starter down the stretch.

In Spring Training, Justin Nicolino will compete for a rotation spot. The lefty was the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and he helped Double-A Jacksonville win the Southern League championship. MLB.com ranks him as the Marlins' No. 4 prospect.

Video: MIA@NYM: Nicolino blanks Mets in perfect sixth inning

"I think you look at the progress that Henderson Alvarez made in becoming an All-Star," Hill said. "And Tom Koehler establishing himself as a dependable and reliable Major League starter. Jarred Cosart has been a very nice acquisition to the ballclub. Nate Eovaldi is a pitcher who needs that consistency, and [he] needs to take that next step and improve his overall consistency.

"If there is an opportunity to upgrade somewhere else in our rotation, be it Brad Hand, Andrew Heaney or Justin Nicolino or Anthony DeSclafani, we'll look to do that to make that starting rotation staff as strong as it possibly can be."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Miami Marlins, Jose Fernandez