Hechavarria, Gordon prime extension candidates

In a season where so much has gone wrong for the Marlins, the club’s flashy middle infield is an example of what has gone right.

Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Dee Gordon have become the best double-play combination in the National League East, and arguably the top tandem in the entire National League. Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik of the Giants are the only duo with a higher WAR.

Defensively, those two don’t match Miami’s middle infielders.

The play Hechavarria made to throw out Jonathan Lucroy to end Monday’s 6-2 win at Milwaukee is another example why the slick-fielding shortstop is so valuable.

Hechavarria and Gordon are regarded as the two most likely contract extension candidates for the Marlins when they enter the offseason. There is still plenty of games to go, but internally those two are the ones considered priorities to lock up long term.

The Marlins approached Hechavarria last offseason, but talks didn’t go very far. Now, with the shortstop about to enter arbitration, the time is right to get a deal done. Gordon, a Super 2 arbitration player, is making $2.5 million this season. He has three more seasons of arbitration, unless he agrees on a long-term deal.

More than any free agents who may be on the market, retaining these two is a higher priority for Miami.

What about Jose Fernandez?

There is plenty of speculation about if or when the Marlins will be able to secure Fernandez to a long-term deal. Before those thoughts gain any steam, foremost, everyone is waiting to see when Fernandez will be healthy.

On the disabled list with a right biceps strain, Fernandez played catch on Monday. He hopes to pitch before the season ends.

Many are saying Fernandez shouldn’t risk anything and be shut down. That may end up happening. If there are any red flags, then obviously, the 23-year-old shouldn’t pitch.

If that is what happens, though, I don’t see the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year being a realistic contract extension candidate.

The Marlins have always been hesitant to sign pitchers long-term anyway. In Fernandez’s case, you have injury to weigh in. He missed nearly 14 months due to Tommy John surgery. Now the shoulder/biceps.

Yes, the Marlins approached Fernandez and his agent, Scott Boras, last offseason, about making a deal. That was coming off Tommy John surgery. Even that was risky.

Now, there is a shoulder issue to go along with previous elbow surgery makes it more likely that Fernandez will wind up going through at least one year of arbitration in 2016. If a multi-year deal could be worked out, it would appear to be for 2017 and beyond.

Now, if Fernandez does pitch again this season, and there is confidence he is healthy, then an extension this offseason may be possible.

Marcell Ozuna?

Many have asked about Ozuna, who recently rejoined the team after spending more than a month at Triple-A New Orleans. Clearly, the 24-year-old wasn’t happy about his extended Minor League stay, which likely now means he won’t be arbitration eligible until 2017, not ’16, as he was trending.

Now another full season away from arbitration, it appears the Marlins are less likely to consider making a long-term deal with the outfielder this winter. Also represented by Boras, it makes little sense for both sides to do something.

Could Ozuna be dangled as a trade piece? Of course. He drew interest at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Unless Ozuna finishes strong, and shows higher value, don’t expect him to be moved.

Ozuna is not untouchable. But to move the outfielder for a top of the rotation starter without him first posting bigger power numbers is not realistic.

Joe Frisaro

Does bringing back Ichiro make sense?

ST. LOUIS — Ichiro Suzuki continues to amaze. The iconic outfielder collected professional hit No. 4,191 on Friday night in Miami’s 3-1 loss to St. Louis at Busch Stadium.

Ty Cobb exhibit from the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Ga.

Ty Cobb exhibit from the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Ga.

The milestone matches Ty Cobb, second on MLB’s all-time hits leader board, behind Pete Rose (4,256).

At 41, Ichiro is going strong. He’s adapted to a bench role with the Marlins, and making his mark whenever called upon.

Ichiro also is at 2,913 big league hits, as he attempts to become the 30th player in MLB history to reach 3,000.

One question the Marlins must ask themselves in the offseason is if they want to future Hall of Famer to reach the benchmark in a Miami uniform?

The answer should be yes. As a bench player he still offers productivity. He keeps in tremendous shape. He’s immensely prepared, and popular with his teammates. Plus, he will generate positive attention (something Miami certainly needs) as he gets closer to the magical 3,000.

I can envision an “Ichiro Countdown” marker on the Marlins Park outfield wall. After each hit, it will count down, and all of baseball will be watching.

The value Ichiro brings is more than just performance on the field. He provides a presence, and a professionalism a young club could use. He’s also going to be cost friend. He signed for $2 million this season, and his salary likely won’t go up, at least much.

Also, it’s not like Ichiro is blocking a top prospect from advancing to the big leagues. The lone outfielder in the system making a case to be a fourth or fifth outfielder is Cole Gillespie, who already is on the roster.

The fact the Marlins aren’t expected to see a dramatic increase in payroll makes even more sense to retain Ichiro and Gillespie.

Also, as we’ve seen this season, there is plenty of playing time for everyone.

In Spring Training, the hot topic was — How would Ichiro get playing time? Miami, after all, seemed set in the outfield with Christian Yelich in left, Marcell Ozuna in center and Giancarlo Stanton in right.

As we saw early, nothing went according to plan for the Marlins this year. Stanton (broke left hand) hasn’t played since June 26. Ozuna was demoted to Triple-A New Orleans on July 5, and Yelich has spent time on the DL early in the year, and he’s missed almost a week with a bruised right knee.

Ichiro has appeared in 109 games, second on the Marlins only to Adeiny Hechavarria’s 112. Sure, many of those games have been as a pinch-hitter, but he’s also made plenty of starts.

In terms of plate appearances, he’s at 302, along with 273 at-bats. Finding at-bats won’t be a problem.

With the Yankees last year, Ichiro played in 143 games, had 385 plate appearances and 359 at-bats.

Stanton this season has 318 plate appearances and 279 at-bats, while Yelich is at 382 PAs and 346 ABs, and Ozuna 322/297.

The Marlins’ primary offseason plan is to compile pitching, not worry about outfield depth.

When it comes to planning for 2016, there certainly is room for a future Hall of Famer like Ichiro on a team striving to become a contender.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins expected to be more analytical in future

ST. LOUIS — Although there is about six weeks remaining in the season, the Marlins are already partially looking ahead to what promises to be a busy and eventful offseason.

As the organization aims to figure out how to move forward, I’m expecting the Marlins to become more analytical in 2016. It’s widely known Miami is at the lower end of teams that rely on advanced metrics when making roster decisions. That is likely to change.

Instead of having one person or a small group of people crunching numbers — as the team currently does — the Marlins may create an analytical department.

Not surprise, but I don’t think the Marlins will be major players on the free agent market, at least in terms of signing the marquee names, like David Price or Johnny Cueto.

Their No. 1 need certainly is pitching — starters and relievers. One is not a priority over the other. Sure they could use an ace like Price. Who couldn’t? But not at the dollars he will command.

More realistic alternatives are free agents coming off either injuries or down years. Doug Fister is far more realistic than Zack Greinke.

While the Marlins can’t spend with the deep-pocket clubs, they can close the gap based on how they evaluate.

Repeatedly, we’ve seen money alone doesn’t win championships.

As MLB.com columnist Richard Justice pointed out in a state-of-the-game-story: “Competitive balance? If the season ended today, six of the top nine teams as measured by payroll would miss the playoffs. The ability to spend will always matter. But smarts and good decisions matter, too.”

The Marlins understand they must get smarter in their evaluations. They clearly miscalculated in trading for Mat Latos and signing free agent Michael Morse.

To what extent the Marlins will rely on analytical data remains unclear. But as technology advances, there is more information at every team’s disposal. Might as well best use it.

Former Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell, an analyst on The MLB Network, has an interesting take on metrics.

“I like it to a certain degree,” Lowell said the other day at Marlins Park. “I don’t like it where I think some people are so extreme that they believe the numbers can explain the outcome day in, day out. Baseball is so weird. You can have a guy that swings the bat really well and go 0-for-4, and guy that swings terribly and goes 2-for-4. Does that mean the guy who swung the bat bad is a better player? I think it evens out over the course of a season.”

Lowell is a fan of Statcast, MLB’s state-of-the-art tracking technology that measures pretty much all movement on the field. It is Statcast that gives home run projections and exit velocity on balls put in play.

“I’m intrigued by that Statcast,” Lowell said. “I don’t know how exact it is, but like jumps for outfielders, first steps for infielders. That intrigues me. If we can really quantify that, I think some guys who are not fast might have better range.

“I’m a big fan of exit velocity. They’re big on spin rate now for pitchers. I agree. I think someone who has a bigger spin rate is probably going to have a curveball that isn’t as picked up as easily. Or it probably breaks a little more.”

Most likely the Marlins won’t become strictly an analytical club, either. They likely will strive for balance.

“I buy into some of it, not all of it,” Lowell said. “But I think you’ve got to accept the technology that comes with the game.”

Joe Frisaro

How stressful inning may have hurt Jose

ATLANTA — The belief and hope is all Jose Fernandez is dealing with is a tender right shoulder, which should get better with rest. But we won’t know for sure until he undergoes more tests, and gets examined by Marlins physician, Dr. Lee Kaplan.

Fernandez returned to Miami on Saturday, the day after he labored through a five-inning, 76-pitch outing in the Marlins’ 6-3 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. The start was going smoothly until a stressful 38-pitch fourth inning, which may have been the cause for his shoulder stiffness.

In the fourth inning, Fernandez threw 18 breaking pitches (either sliders or curveballs) and 15 fastballs (two and four-seamers) plus five changeups. In that frame, 31 pitches were thrown from the stretch.

The Marlins have been taking a “common sense” approach with Fernandez. They pulled him after five innings, and in the fifth, he needed just nine pitches to get three outs. Still, he was coming off a 112-pitch outing last Sunday against the Padres at Marlins Park. It was the second most pitches he’s ever thrown at the big league level, topped only by 114 on May 4, 2014 against the Dodgers.

The 114 pitches, by the way, came in the start before he faced the Padres on May 9, 2014. After that game it was revealed the right-hander tore a ligament in his right elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery a week later.

Miami has been handling Fernandez with care throughout the nearly 14 months he took to recover from his surgery.

After his elbow injury, some speculated Fernandez added stress to his elbow by throwing so many breaking pitches. On Friday night, 27 of his 76 pitches were either sliders or curveballs. He also threw 11 changeups, along with 19 two-seam and 19 four-seam fastballs.

His velocity maxed at 98 mph, which he reached three times. In the fourth inning, he triggered 97 three times. In the fifth inning, his fastball topped at 94 mph, which was his final pitch of the night.

Did throwing out of the stretch, combined with 36 percent of his pitches on the night being breaking balls help create the shoulder tightness? It’s one theory.

Here’s a breakdown of all 76 pitches Fernandez threw on Friday, as tracked by MLB.com’s Game Day program. Game Day listed all of Fernandez’s breaking balls as “curveballs.” He may call the pitch a slider, but for tracking purposes, it was read as a curve.

Fastballs are listed as 2-seam (2 FB), 4-seam (4 FB), curveball (CB) and changeup (CH)

1st inning

1- 92 CH
2- 95 2 FB
3- 83 CB
4- 83 CB
5- 94 2 FB
6- 94 4 FB
7- 95 2 FB
8- 98 4 FB
9- 94 2 FB

2nd inning

10- 93 2 FB
11- 86 CH
12- 93 2 FB
13- 95 2 CB
14- 97 4 FB
15- 98 4 FB
16- 84 CB
17- 83 CB
18- 97 4 FB
19- 84 CB
20- 98 4 FB
21- 80 CB

3rd inning

22- 94 2 FB
23- 93 2 FB
24- 95 4 FB
25- 81 CB
26- 94 2 FB
27- 94 4 FB
28- 82 CB
29- 97 4 FB

4th inning

30- 86 CH
31- 86 CH
32- 95 4 FB
33- 84 CB
34- 96 2 FB
35- 89 CH
36- 81 CB
37- 97 4 FB
38- 82 CB
39- 97 4 FB
40- 83 CB
41- 97 4 FB
42- 93 2 FB
43- 95 4 FB
44- 83 CB
45- 83 CB
46- 88 CH
47- 95 2 FB
48- 83 CB
49- 95 4 FB
50- 87 CH
51- 94 2 FB
52- 88 CH
53- 96 4 FB
54- 83 CB
55- 85 CB
56- 84 CB
57- 85 CB
58- 95 2 FB
59- 84 CB
60- 84 CB
61- 97 4 FB
62- 85 CB
63- 82 CB
64- 96 4 FB
65- 94 2 FB
66- 85 CB
67- 84 CB

5th inning

68- 92 CH
69- 92 2 FB
70- 93 4 FB
71- 93 2 FB
72- 90 CH
73- 74 CB
74- 85 CH
75- 80 CB
76- 94 2 FB

Joe Frisaro

Realmuto more at home on road

ATLANTA — J.T. Realmuto is one of the bright spots in an otherwise rough season for the Marlins. The rookie catcher has the makings of being a better than average big leaguer, and perhaps a future All-Star. He’s already shown signs that he eventually will become a team leader.

Still, like pretty much all rookies, he is going through growing pains. Realmuto also is being victimized by bad luck. He’s repeatedly stung the baseball with little to show for it.

What is interesting is how Realmuto’s numbers stack up when you evaluate his home and road splits. It’s glaring how the catcher is not being rewarded for his up-the-middle approach at spacious Marlins Park.

Because Miami’s ballpark is so expansive, outfielders can afford to play deep, and they often run down hard line drives that more frequently fall for hits on the road.

Entering Thursday night, Realmuto has exactly the same number of at-bats (148) and plate appearances (156) at home and on the road. The results are drastically different. At Marlins Park, his slash line is .209/.244/.338 with three homers and 18 RBIs. Away, he’s at .284/.310/.446 with three homers and 11 RBIs.

Realmuto’s homers are coming when he pulls the ball. Even at Marlins Park, pulled shots go out. It’s the middle of the field that routinely demoralizes pretty much any hitter who plays regularly at Marlins Park.

The Marlins are open to moving in the fences. But there hasn’t been a firm commitment to do so for 2016 or beyond. The park is in its fourth season, and the club has been studying data.

Marlins hitters don’t often publicly talk about how the park can be so unrewarding, mainly because they try not to use it as an excuse. They also don’t want it to become a psychological thing.

What the organization doesn’t want to see happen is their hitters having two approaches, one for at home and the other on the road.

Clearly, the park isn’t rewarding Realmuto, who is a big part of the present and future.

Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria also is in a similar situation. He doesn’t have huge power, but his power tends to be hurt at home. Hech’s splits at Marlins Park are: .266/.291/.365 with three homers and 24 RBIs. On the road, he’s at .283/.326/.372 with two homers and 18 RBIs.

Christian Yelich, one of the faces of the franchise, is regarded as a future middle of the lineup hitter. To be productive in that role, he must demonstrate more power. But at Marlins Park, he has one homer and 11 RBIs, compared to five and 15 on the road. Now, Yelich’s slash line is better at home (.302/.389/.377) compared to .229/.285/.355.

Martin Prado is another: .250/.301/.336 in Miami and .291/.324/.378 away.

The team’s main power threat, of course, is Giancarlo Stanton, who can make any park appear small. He’s hit 13 of his 27 homers at home, and driven in 36 in Miami. Away, he has 14 homers and 31 RBIs. At home Stanton is slugging .613 compared to .599.

Still, the slugger would take his share of wall-scrapers, and not have to club the ball 450 plus feet to guarantee a trot around the bases.

It will be interesting to see this offseason if the Marlins will move in the fences. If it happens, the core group of players right now would see their production benefit. That’s without adding another new face. If not, it may be more of the same offensive struggles, regardless of who is offering Stanton protection in the lineup.

— Joe Frisaro

Possible return day for Ozuna

MIAMI — The countdown to when Marcell Ozuna is recalled from Triple-A New Orleans to the Marlins is underway. It could be a matter of days or maybe weeks.

Until it happens, it remains a guessing game. So many are trying to piece together the service time puzzle to precisely determine the exact date Miami’s Opening Day center fielder will be back in the big leagues.

Before being optioned to New Orleans on July 5, Ozuna was compiling enough big league service time to qualify as a Super 2 arbitration candidate in 2016. Now, due to his Minor League stint, he may not reach that status, and instead be arbitration eligible in 2017.

Figuring out service time on Super 2 players is always tricky because so many factors are involved.

Either way, Ozuna’s projects to become a free agent for the 2020 season. This is significant. It’s also a different time line that Jose Fernandez, who will be eligible for arbitration in ’16, and a free agent in 2019. Both Fernandez and Ozuna were rookies in 2013. The difference is Fernandez was with the club from Opening Day, while Ozuna joined later.

My educated guess is Ozuna will be with the Marlins on Aug. 15. But that day is certainly subject to change.

Worth noting

* Some good news regarding Jarred Cosart’s recovery from an inner ear disorder impacting his left ear. The right-hander, who has been in Chicago this week being examined by a specialist, is making major strides. He is expected to be in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday, and he has been cleared for full activity that day.

Best case scenario is Cosart, who was optioned to New Orleans on July 4, is a September call-up. But that is not a given. Foremost, is getting the 25-year-old healthy for 2016.

Doctors believe his condition affected him the entire season. He spent time on the DL in May with vertigo, and had a relapse a few weeks ago in New Orleans.

* Lefty prospect Justin Nicolino, a candidate to join Miami’s rotation in the final two months, gave up two runs on eight hits in a win over the Dodgers’ Triple-A squad on Tuesday. The Marlins are weighing whether to keep Brad Hand, who pitched against the Mets on Tuesday, in the rotation or bullpen. Nicolino is lined up with Hand. So if Hand isn’t starting on Sunday at Atlanta, Nicolino may get the nod.

* Justin Cohen, Miami’s sixth-round pick, in the June MLB Draft, will miss the rest of the season after fracturing a finger on his right hand. The catcher from Sarasota, Fla., suffered the injury on a foul ball.

Joe Frisaro

Trade talks heat up as deadline nears

Well before Mat Latos stepped up with one of his finest outings of the season on Tuesday night, the Marlins had been fielding inquires about the veteran right-hander.

Latos’ seven strikeouts over seven shutout innings in a 3-0 win at Arizona certainly helped advance Miami’s efforts to deal the 27-year-old.

There is so much uncertainty regarding how many trades the Marlins will make before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Latos, Dan Haren, Brad Hand and perhaps Steve Cishek and Michael Morse could be on the move. About the closest thing to a guarantee is Latos will be dealt.

A pending free agent, Latos doesn’t fit into the club’s plans. The Marlins have had phone inquires regarding the right-hander since June.

One reason a deal hasn’t already been made is because the Marlins are trying to maximize their return. And quite frankly, Latos didn’t show much the first two months.

Throughout MLB, the market has pretty much been in a standstill. There are a number of starters available, and the league is waiting to see which team strikes first.

Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto, another free agent after the season, is in a similar situation to Latos. it appears that once Cueto is moved, it will give the Marlins a better indication of what they can expect back for Latos.

Overall, it’s been a rough season for Latos, who is 4-6 with a 4.48 ERA. He’s spent time on the disabled list with a left knee issue, and he skipped a start before the All-Star Break due to bruised left toes.

Still, Latos has been effective over his last seven starts, positing a 3-2 (3.60) record with 45 strikeouts in 45 innings. He offers value to a contender.

Although Latos hasn’t helped the Marlins become a playoff contender in 2015, his impact to the organization can be long-lasting, but only if the team maximizes the return in an expected trade.

Joe Frisaro

Potential Marlins trade candidates

MIAMI — It’s now July, which means trade rumors are about to seriously heat up.

The Marlins, major disappointments, understandably will be the subject of speculation. At 32-46, Miami is striving to get back to respectability before thinking postseason.

Even with Jose Fernandez set to return on Thursday, there is not much realistic hope for a serious playoff push, especially with Giancarlo Stanton out at least a month with a broken hand.

So what does that mean with the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching? The Marlins insist they want to retain their core pieces, especially players under club control or contracts through 2016.

The organization isn’t in clean-house mode. Far from it. Now, by the end of the month, at least a couple of trades are highly likely.

Let’s start with who is least likely to be moved, before we get to who are the prime trade candidates.

Unlikely to go: Let’s get this one out of the way first. Martin Prado is signed through 2016, with the Yankees picking up $3 million of the $11 million he will make in ’16. It would take a really big return for the Marlins to move the veteran third baseman, who currently is on the disabled list.

Prado is exactly what the Marlins want. He’s a leader. He’s productive. He’s affordable. Also, the free agent market for third baseman isn’t great this offseason. So finding a replacement for next year would be difficult. Derek Dietrich is doing a nice job in his role, but he isn’t regarded as the full-time answer.

Foremost, Miami needs Prado healthy. He’s dealing with a right shoulder injury, and on Tuesday he played catch. He still has a ways to go before returning, which probably will be after the All-Star Break.

Also not expected to be moved is outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. With Stanton out, Ichiro is playing regularly. The 41-year-old is a free agent next year, but Miami already is hopeful he will return. It would take an overpay by another club to land Ichiro.

Likely to go: Mat Latos, a free agent, could be the primary trade chip the Marlins have. After being slowed by injury in the first month or two, Latos has made three straight solid starts, including Tuesday’s win. Even postgame, Latos noted that the game “is a business.” He wouldn’t be surprised, and Miami has been measuring interest in Latos for several weeks.

The Marlins already have an overflow of starters, and moving a couple of arms is highly likely.

Probably will go: Dan Haren headlines this group, but it is not a given he will be on the move. Haren has value to the Marlins, plus the Dodgers are paying his entire $10 million salary this season. It will depend on the offer Miami receives.

If he is not moved by July 31, Haren might be an August, waiver deadline candidate.

Lefty Brad Hand, who is out of options, is being used in a long relief role.

May stay or go: Reliever Steve Cishek, who has one more season of arbitration, could be dealt by the end of the month. The right-hander has been making strides after losing the closer role. If he continues to regain his old form, he could be a solid piece for a contender.

Others who may be on the move, reliever Bryan Morris, lefty Mike Dunn, first baseman Michael Morse and right-hander Tom Koehler.

The Marlins have indicated Koehler isn’t going anywhere, but if the return makes sense, you never know.

Joe Frisaro

Naylor close to signing, Prado still hurting

MIAMI — It’s been a big week for Marlins first-round pick Josh Naylor.

The left-handed hitting first baseman turned 18 on Monday, and today (June 25) he graduates from St. Joan of Arc High School in Ontario, Canada. What this means from a baseball standpoint, is after graduation, Naylor is officially eligible to sign with Miami.

So expect a deal to be finalized either Thursday or Friday, and Naylor to be ready to report to the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla., where he will prepare for the Gulf Coast League season. The recommended slot value for Naylor, who was taken 12th overall, is $3,051,800.

What I’m hearing is Naylor will sign for between $2 million and $2.5 million.

Once Naylor is officially signed, the Marlins will have locked up each of their top 10 round choices.

Other news

* Third baseman Martin Prado (right shoulder) is still experiencing discomfort. It is appearing unlikely he will be back before the All-Star Break. Not that Miami is looking to trade Prado before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but now it would appear even more remote for a potential move, since his return is unknown.

Derek Dietrich and Donovan Solano have been splitting time at third. Don Kelly (fractured finger) is on rehab assignment, and in a week or so could fit into the infield equation.

* Jose Fernandez is set to throw his final rehab assignment game on Saturday at Double-A Jacksonville. The right-hander is lined up to make his season debut with the Marlins on July 2 against the Giants at Marlins Park. The way he is lined up, Fernandez will make two starts before the All-Star Break. After the break, if he checks out fine physically, the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year should be ready to go without restrictions for the rest of the season.

Joe Frisaro

Jose dominates, is he ready right now?

MIAMI — The fact Jose Fernandez is dominating Advanced Class A hitters in rehab assignment starts isn’t really shocking.

The bigger picture question here is do the Marlins believe Fernandez is ready right now to rejoin the big league roster, or is the plan to stay the course, and bring their 22-year-old ace back on July 2? Fernandez himself announced July 2, because it is how he was progressing. But unless that date is written with a Sharpie, it can be readjusted.

Because what Monday night revealed is Fernandez is ready right now. So why not bring him back this weekend to face the Dodgers at Marlins Park?

Any more proof was revealed on Monday at Roger Dean Stadium in the Hammerheads 4-1 win over the St. Lucie Mets. You don’t always pay too much attention to rehab performances. But Fernandez scattered four hits, gave up a run, struck out nine with one walk in seven innings. Enough said.

We don’t know yet if the Marlins are rethinking Fernandez’s return.

But this week, I do expect Miami to reinstate another starter currently on the DL. Right-hander Jarred Cosart, who has been out since mid-May due to vertigo, is expected back this week. So it isn’t just Fernandez the Marlins will have to slot into the rotation, Cosart also must be lined up.

As for Fernandez, from Day 1, the Marlins have been ultra careful. He’s been on strict pitch limits and throwing schedules, as he builds back from his Tommy John surgery. But let’s face it, he’s good to go.

When breaking down the performance Monday, two things stand out — 90 pitches and seven innings. I don’t care about the strikeouts. I expect them. He’s got command, velocity are there, and most importantly, he feels great.

What’s the goal in a fifth rehab start, which is set for Saturday at Double-A Jacksonville? To get him to 100 pitches? Let him do that this weekend, at Marlins Park against the Dodgers.

Fernandez’s velocity is there — touching 98 mph. He’s executing all his pitches. What’s left?

Fernandez already has made four rehab assignment starts, and logged 19 2/3 innings. He’s struck out 25 and walked four.

If the Marlins are treating this like Fernandez’s Spring Training, he’s already logged more innings than most Miami starters did back in March. Dan Haren, for instance, threw 18 innings in Spring Training games. Plus, Fernandez also threw 40-something pitches in an extended spring game leading into his four rehab starts.

At this point, bring him back now. Most likely, the Marlins are going to go five or six innings with him in his first start anyway.

One thing is for sure if the Marlins change plans with Fernandez, his next outing won’t be potentially impacted by weather.

With its roof, there is no threat of rain at Marlins Park this weekend. You can’t say the same with a fifth rehab start. If it rains at Jacksonville this weekend, then what? Have Fernandez throw 100 pitches off a mound in the cages?

On Sunday at Cincinnati, president of baseball operations Michael Hill said the team is considering going with a six-man rotation once Fernandez returns, but only through the All-Star Break. That makes more sense if Fernandez pitches Saturday or Sunday against the Dodgers than on July 2.

Either way, Fernandez is going to make just two starts before the Break. But with a six-man rotation, and a weekend return, Jose’s second start could then be lined up either July 11 or perhaps July 12, the day before the Midsummer Classic.

Under that scenario, he would be set to be on a five-day schedule and open the second half, at Philadelphia on July 17.

If he returns July 2, his next start would either be July 7-8. Do it that way, Fernandez would be waiting another eight or nine days for his first start after the Break. Jose doesn’t need that much time. He’s trying to get going, into a rhythm, not take a breather and then try to get sharp again.

Plus, the Marlins are hopeful to get back into the race, or be at least to .500 by Aug. 1. Fernandez’s return might be their last sign of hope. Get him going sooner than later. Besides, if they are out of it in September, the club could back off on how much they use their young ace down the stretch.

The way he looks at this point, Fernandez is ready to help the Marlins right now. So why wait?

Joe Frisaro


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