He’s coming back. Whisper it, sing it, shout it from the mountaintopJose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, arguably the most exciting young arm in baseball, is about to pitch in a big league game for the first time in more than a year. 

This season has given us an avalanche of burgeoning stars: Kris Bryant, Noah Syndergaard, Joey Gallo, Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, among others. So it’s easy to get distracted, to forget what Fernandez meant and, more importantly, what he could mean.

The Marlins right-hander has been MIA since May 2014, an eternity in our modern, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world.

Allow us to refresh your memory. Or, actually, just go ahead and watch this:

That’s filth, cheddar, gas—pick your ham-fisted metaphor. Fernandez has the stuff to be the best pitcher in the game—no hyperbole—and he’s only 22 years old.

In fact, those highlights up there are from 2013, when he broke in as a 20-year-old wunderkind and wound up winning Rookie of the Year honors with a 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 172.2 innings.

Entering the 2014 campaign, it was worth wondering whether Fernandez would knock Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw off of his Cy Young pedestal. Or, as Sports Illustrated‘s Cliff Corcoran put it in August 2013, “[If] this is how he pitches as a raw rookie after having just two months to adjust to making the leap from High-A to the majors, how good is he going to be next year?”

Unfortunately, those sky-high expectations crashed to Earth when Fernandez went down after eight starts with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. 

It’s a familiar tale. Right in Fernandez’s division, the National League East, you’ll find two other emerging studs who ran the Tommy John gauntlet: Matt Harvey of the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals‘ Stephen Strasburg.

The good news for Fernandez and the Marlins is that both Harvey and Strasburg returned strong.  

That said, even elite hurlers usually face an adjustment period coming back from Tommy John. ESPNNewYork.com’s Adam Rubin cited data collected by Dr. Glenn Fleisig, research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, that shows 80 percent of pitchers successfully return to the big leagues after the increasingly common procedure but typically take six months to hit their stride.

Fernandez’s final rehab tuneup Saturday for Double-A Jacksonville offered encouraging but imperfect results, per CBS Sports‘ Jason Lempert: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO.

Don’t ask folks in South Beach to temper their expectations, though.

Not after suffering through a disappointing season, during which the Marlins have limped to a 31-46 record entering play Tuesday.

Not after a head-scratching managerial saga that saw Mike Redmond kicked to the curb in favor of Dan Jennings, who stepped down from the general manager’s office with zero pro coaching experience.

Not with Giancarlo Stanton sidelined for four to six weeks with a broken hamate bone.

When Fernandez takes the hill Thursday at Marlins Park, he’ll carry the last, best hope of Marlins fans with him. Surely they want—desperately—to see that guy, the one capable of carrying the franchise with his crackling high-90s fastball and golden right arm.

Surely it’s been agony for Fernandez to sit on the sideline, to get a tantalizing taste of MLB success and then be forced to watch the action like a common spectator. Now, however, on the eve of his comeback, he talks about the experience like a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a little better. Not only for pitching but for everything in life,” he told Craig Davis of the Sun Sentinel. “I’ve been following it for 13 months, so if I learned something, it’s how to be patient. It was much needed at my age.”

At long last, Fernandez gets to start learning lessons between the lines again. He gets to pull on a uniform, grab a sphere of cowhide, yarn and cork and try to throw it past the best hitters in the world.

He’s coming back, and that’s good news for us all.


All statistics current as of June 29 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

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