Marlins ace Fernandez to DL with sprained right elbow
LOS ANGELES -- Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, one of the game's rising young stars and the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner, has thrown 787 total pitches in eight starts. Chances are he has thrown his final pitch of the 2014 season after being placed on the disabled list on Monday with a sprained right elbow.
According to agent Scott Boras, who represents Fernandez, a couple of MRIs were taken to get the best read on what is ailing the 21-year-old.
"When you go through this process, it's difficult," Boras said. "I'm always concerned."
Asked if Fernandez will pitch again this season, Boras demurred: "I think the best thing I can say about that is, I'm not a doctor."
Before the Marlins opened their three-game series against the Dodgers, manager Mike Redmond discussed the injury and the corresponding roster move -- left-hander reliever Dan Jennings was called up from Triple-A.
Losing Fernandez is a blow to an upstart team that is built around its rotation.
"You see how much he means, so much to our team and our rotation and, really, all of baseball," Redmond said. "He's been a dynamic player. He's been a huge lift and a huge spark for our team. We just hope everything goes well and he just has to take a little bit of a break."
On Monday, Fernandez underwent an MRI performed by Dodgers lead team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. As Boras noted, a second was taken, as Fernandez is getting as many opinions as possible.
Fernandez is now headed back to Miami, where he will be evaluated by Marlins physician Dr. Lee Kaplan.
"We're going to reserve judgment until we get a chance for Dr. Kaplan to review all the findings and talk things through with Dr. Kaplan and Jose and see where we're at," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "As soon as you hear that the elbow is involved, you're concerned. We're going to reserve judgment. We're not going to panic or anything. Obviously, there is a level of concern. We're just waiting to hear what the results are."
Fernandez was initially scheduled to pitch in Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers. For now, the Marlins have yet to announce who will take his place. The choices include long relievers Kevin Slowey and Brad Hand, both of whom are on the active roster. If the team wants to call up one of its top pitching prospects, lefty Andrew Heaney and right-hander Anthony DeSclafani are options. Both are at Double-A Jacksonville.
The strength of the club is its rotation, which now will be tested. Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Tom Koehler and Jacob Turner will be looking to pick up the slack.
"It's huge, obviously," right fielder Giancarlo Stanton said of being without Fernandez. "I don't know how long he will be out for or anything. It's one of those things that is out of our control. He just has to rehab and get it better, however long it has to take. We'll have to do without him."
Eovaldi, a hard-throwing 24-year-old right-hander, has pitched at the level of an ace, and he will carry an extra responsibility to front the rotation.
"It's definitely disappointing, but we'd been throwing the ball so well as a whole, we've got to … keep doing what we're doing and keep going out there," Eovaldi said. "It's definitely a big blow for us. The things [Fernandez has] accomplished and everything he's done for the organization is amazing, especially at a young age."
Because of the discomfort in his elbow, Fernandez didn't throw his bullpen session on Sunday in San Diego.
"He definitely wasn't going to throw with a sore arm," Redmond said. "We're going to take every precaution necessary. He said he felt discomfort. So immediately, we're getting him the treatment and the rest he needs."
Fernandez experienced a drop in velocity in his most recent start, and it resulted in one of the roughest outings of his career, as he allowed six runs (five earned) and two home runs over five-plus innings against the Padres on Friday night.
On Saturday morning, Fernandez said his arm was fine, but he admitted to having an upset stomach and said that in the top of the first inning, he vomited in a trash can in the tunnel behind the dugout.
The Marlins closely monitored Fernandez's innings when he was a rookie, limiting him to 172 2/3 frames. They have given him extra days of rest, looking to avoid overworking him.
Cutting down on injuries to pitchers remains a concern throughout the Majors, and as Fernandez's injury shows, no one is immune to an arm problem.
"That's probably what everyone is going to talk about and continue to talk about," Redmond said. "We've protected him. We've been consistent in how we've used him, with his workload. We've given him extra days. That's a question I don't think anybody has the answer to."
Fernandez has made eight starts and is 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA.
From the first inning at San Diego, the hard-throwing right-hander was off. Fernandez's pitches weren't crisp, and though he did reach 97 mph, his fastball in the middle innings was around 91.
"His velocity didn't really look the same," Stanton said. "I can't tell stuff-wise. But velocity, I would peek over, it wasn't normal, for sure."
Any elbow injury raises concerns about possible Tommy John surgery.
"I think you're always concerned when you're talking about elbows," Redmond said. "That's something we have to wait to find out. But I think we're always concerned about that, with pitchers especially."
One of the premier power pitchers in the game, Fernandez paces the Majors with 70 strikeouts. His dominance can be attributed to the fact that he throws four pitches, all from the same arm slot, and all with plus command.
Because of the variety of his pitches, Fernandez didn't rely specifically on a fastball that maxed at 100 mph earlier this season. In the middle innings on Friday at San Diego, he was throwing a high number of breaking pitches.
"He hasn't thrown a lot of fastballs all year," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "It's been 50-50 [for the fastball and offspeed pitches]. I didn't change my game-calling, and I don't feel like he changed what he throws."
Starting pitching is an area of strength for Miami, but the club doesn't have anyone else with the overall dominance of Fernandez.
"The good thing is, we've got a lot of guys who have been able to step up and pitch well," Saltalamacchia said. "Hopefully, it is just for two weeks. Other guys will have to step up and take his spot. It's a big hit, obviously, with him, our ace. Good teams find a way to make it work and win."