Jose’s time line could be early July

MIAMI — Jose Fernandez begins his rehab assignment with Class A Jupiter on Saturday at Port Carlotte, and the speculation has already started on when the 22-year-old ace will join the Marlins.

It’s shaping up that Fernandez could be back anywhere from July 1, when Miami is at home against the Giants. Or it could be on July 7 at the Red Sox. Or, it could be any time in between, which means it could be at Wrigley Field, when Miami plays the Cubs July 3-5.

First things first, Fernandez must show he is ready. We’ll get a better indication after each rehab assignment start. The Marlins appear willing to use the full 30 days for his assignment.

The team’s approach now appears to be mirroring what any starter would do in Spring Training. On Monday, Fernandez threw 42 pitches in an extended spring game on a back field at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

On Saturday, Fernandez may be throwing just two innings. If that is the case, it would be like a normal first outing for any pitcher in his first Spring Training game. From there, Fernandez will follow a routine, and build up accordingly.

How many innings would Fernandez need to be big league ready? Let’s take Dan Haren, for an example.

Haren made five Grapefruit League starts this spring, and logged 19 1/3 innings. So anywhere in the neighborhood should be about right for Fernandez.

If Fernandez gets five rehab starts and builds up one inning at a time, he would reach 18 innings throwing — two Saturday, followed by three, four, five and six.

Under that schedule, the six innings would be on July 1.

Should that be the case, Fernandez could be pitching for the Marlins at Fenway Park on July 7.

* The promotion of right-hander Kendry Flores has many Marlins’ fans wondering what about lefty Justin Nicolino, the club’s No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com.

The simple answer as to why Flores over Nicolino is the front office feels the right-hander is more ready as of right now.

Nicolino is a very interesting prospect because he has talent but is not overpowering. He’s also enjoying a strong season at Triple-A New Orleans. However, on Tuesday night, he got knocked around, in an 11-2 loss to Tacoma.

The lefty gave up eight runs (seven earned) in three innings, and Tacoma belted three homers.

The rough start dropped Nicolino’s record to 4-2 and raised his ERA to 2.94.

Miami wants to make sure Nicolino is polished enough to stick in the big leagues. The scouting report is he has plus command to go with an average fastball. His pitching savvy, ability to change speeds, and work both sides of the plate impress the scouts. They’re also impressed that he can throw quality strikes when he has to. But he has to be sharp, because if he isn’t, his stuff can get hit hard.

Once Nicolino gets called up, his service time clock starts, which means his options may kick in. The organization would like to avoid bouncing him up and down, like they did last year with Andrew Heaney.

The other thing to keep in mind with Nicolino is his ceiling isn’t much higher than what he is now. Basically, he is close to being big league ready. But at this point, from the team’s perspective, it makes more sense to wait closer to July or later. Doing that guarantees he avoids being a Super 2, and reaching arbitration a season early.

Nicolino is part of the future.

Also factoring into the thinking is Brad Hand has stepped up in his starts, and Miami has Jarred Cosart close to coming off the DL.

Joe Frisaro

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