WASHINGTON — Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest was reading off a long list of roster moves on Sunday when he came to the name he knew would create a ripple.
“Get ready,” Beinfest said. “Jose Fernandez. The Jose Fernandez.’’
As in the Marlins’ young pitching phenom.
On the day before Opening Day, Beinfest dropped a baseball bombshell by announcing that Fernandez — the 20-year-old hotshot, Cuban defector and former first-round draft pick — was not only being put on the team’s big-league roster but was also being thrown into the starting rotation.
Fernandez will make his major-league debut on Sunday in New York.
“I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry,” Fernandez said of his reaction when Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria broke the news to him in a phone call on Friday. “It is crazy.”
Pretty much everyone assumed the Marlins wouldn’t promote Fernandez until later in the season, after some additional seasoning in the minors at Double A Jacksonville. Certainly, there was no indication he would be with the Marlins when they opened their season Monday against the Nationals. After all, Fernandez has not pitched above Single A.
But plans changed suddenly when injuries landed not one, but two members of the starting rotation on the disabled list.
Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez were each placed on the 15-day DL with right shoulder inflammation.
That created a pair of openings in the rotation. One is being filled by Alex Sanabia, who was called up from Triple A. The other is being taken by Fernandez, who is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 5 prospect in baseball. Not since Josh Beckett have the Marlins boasted a pitching prospect with so much promise.
“I think it’s been tugging at all of us a little bit,” Beinfest said of the decision to bring Fernandez to the majors now as opposed to later. “The consensus was this kid is ready to handle it here, he’s ready to pitch here.”
Beinfest said Fernandez will be placed on a strict limit of 150 to 170 innings this season so as to protect his arm.
Fernandez will also be limited in the number of innings and pitches he can throw each game.
“We understand the asset we have, and the value of him, and his age, and we’re going to do whatever we can do to do things in his best interests,” Beinfest said. “Our goal is we want him to pitch up here, get the experience now. We think he’s ready to do it.”
Fernandez pitched in only one Grapefruit League game before being reassigned to minor-league camp. But he made the Marlins reconsider after a pair of minor-league outings in which he dominated Double A hitters.
In one, he struck out nine in only four innings. In the other he delivered five no-hit innings.
Fernandez proved to be an even greater temptation for the Marlins after Jacob Turner failed to crack the rotation and Eovaldi and Alvarez landed on the DL with what Beinfest termed as “mild inflammation” in their right shoulders. He said MRIs showed no structural damage, and he expects both to be ready to pitch in a month at the latest.
‘Ready to do it’
“This has the potential to have some criticism, saying the guy hasn’t pitched in Double A, and this and that,” Beinfest acknowledged. “I think we understand all those things, and we went through them. But they’re all different. Some guys are going to be ready at 24, and some guys are going to be ready at 20. I think we’re doing this completely with our eyes open.
“But if you have a special guy that’s ready to do it, and he’s mature mentally and physically, which we believe he is, we want him to get the experience now.
“We think there’s a lot of value in getting experience now, rather than going to Double A.”
Manager Mike Redmond said Fernandez would be slotted at the back of the rotation, following Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Slowey, Wade LeBlanc and Alex Sanabia. Nolasco is making the Opening Day start for the Marlins at Nationals Park and, with an off day scheduled for Tuesday, again on Saturday before Fernandez makes his debut.
Fernandez said he can hardly contain his excitement.
“I’m still in shock,” Fernandez said. “It’s incredible. Knowing that it’s not spring training anymore, the seasons going to start [Monday] and I’m here with them.
“... It’s going to be fun to watch. I’ve got a lot to learn.”