Jose Fernandez is the most spectacular starting pitcher in baseball right now. So when he got shellacked in San Diego on Friday, something had to be wrong.
The Marlins’ worst fears were confirmed, and Fernandez is now out for the season with a torn UCL. He will need Tommy John surgery, an operation that takes at least a full year to return from. He joins the long list of pitchers that already includes Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves, Patrick Corbin of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Matt Moore of the Rays and many more.
At the young age of 21, Fernandez is the biggest ray of hope for the Miami Marlins and their fan base. His 2.44 ERA and Major League leading 70 strikeouts in eight starts this season has helped keep the Marlins in contention.
He won the National League Rookie of the Year last with 187 strikeouts, a major league-best .182 opponents' batting average and a 2.19 ERA that was second in the majors behind three-time defending ERA champ Clayton Kershaw.
The good news is Tommy John surgery has a very high success rate because the procedure takes an unused ligament and adds it to the UCL that’s being repaired, making the pitcher stronger than ever. However not everyone comes back from Tommy John successfully.
Josh Johnson had Tommy John in 2007 with the Marlins and has been an injury liability since. Daniel Hudson required Tommy John surgery in 2012 after a great 2011 season with the Arizona Diamondbacks but re-tore his UCL during rehab and had to get a second Tommy John surgery.
The UCL has become the ACL of baseball. In football, once you hear someone tear their ACL, their season was done and possibly their career. Now in baseball, pitchers are playing with fire when they throw their hardest 100 times every five days.
The loss of Fernandez in the rotation is a major blow but the Marlins can keep on going. In 2003, the Marlins lost their ace A.J. Burnett for the season early on and still went on to win the World Series.
That happened because of the arrival of Dontrelle Willis who took the baseball world by storm. Willis came in the same way Livan Hernandez did in 1997. Two one-hit wonders in two World Series winning seasons.
The Marlins have yet to truly benefit from the blockbuster trade they made with the Toronto Blue Jays after the 2012 season. To take Fernandez's place, the Marlins will send out Anthony DeSclafani (one of the three pitchers the Marlins acquired from the trade) from Double-A Jacksonville to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Desclafani struck out 10 batters in six innings in his most recent start.
Whether it's DeSclafani or someone else, if they can find a fifth guy who can be not as good as Fernandez but just good enough, they’ll still be able to compete.