After what happened this weekend against the San Diego Padres, someone on the Marlins might’ve been forgiven for hoping the team would get a shot in the arm. This was probably not what they had in mind.
Jose Fernandez is headed to the disabled list with a right elbow sprain. Some outlets reported this as a right elbow strain, which is a different injury, but in the elbow, both of those things come out the same — either there’s damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow (a sprain) or damage to the flexor tendon that supports it (a strain), and in pitchers both of these things generally end up a long, sad way down the same road.
It’s been a bad year for this particular injury; bad enough that without context, you might get the impression that a guy named Tommy John was running around the country destroying mens’ elbows with hammers. For awhile now I’ve been dubious that we’re actually seeing more UCL tears this year than in years past — the media as a whole sort of jumped on the Year of Tommy John bandwagon fairly quickly after it wrecked a couple staffs near the end of the preseason, which means there’s just flat-out been more coverage of players getting Tommy John surgery at all levels then there has been in years past. But, we’re at least reaching a point where we have to admit this year’s injuries are front loaded at best, and a clear reminder of how fragile a great pitcher really is. It also reinforces how great we had it back in the nineties and early aughts, when there were four or five pitchers doing the kind of stuff Jose Fernandez was doing for years at a time, laughing in the face of a disabled list stint.
What does this mean for the Marlins? It means a Nathan Eovaldi/Tom Koehler/Henderson Alvarez/Kevin Slowey/Jacob Turner rotation (shove Brad Hand in there for one of Slowey or Turner if it makes you feel better), and that rotation is far, far less inspiring than the one with a frontman who was an early candidate for the National League Cy Young Award. Not to take anything away from Eovaldi and Alvarez — I’ve already sung their praises for this season extensively in other work — but they’re middle of the rotation options at their absolute best. Eovaldi relies on great fastball command to be effective, and has proven time and again that said command is fleeting; Alvarez is a groundballer with limited strikeout potential. In short, if either guy was a potential ace, the Dodgers and Blue Jays wouldn’t have traded them to Miami.
Fernandez’s injury pretty much dooms the Marlins season, but the Marlins’ season was doomed anyway. They were at best a dark horse for the second wild card before Fernandez hurt his elbow; now they’re planning for next year (while assuring their fans the opposite is true). And that’s fine; the team as constructed even with a healthy Hernandez needs help at the infield corners (with Colin Moran progressing through the minors right now to help at third base, at least), and probably in the back of the rotation. In the long run it is not a bad thing that the Marlins cannot compete this season, and are cultivating a young and talented team for a run starting in 2015. It is a bad thing for the Marlins — and for baseball — that the only reason this is so is because Jose Fernandez suffered a major arm injury.