SAN FRANCISCO -- Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez underwent successful Tommy John surgery in Los Angeles on Friday. Details of the events leading up to the procedure raise questions as to whether it could have been averted.
Ralph Fernandez (no relation), Jose's Tampa-based attorney released a statement Friday afternoon to bring folks up to speed on Fernandez's surgery. He also put forth a timeline suggesting Fernandez first felt discomfort in the aftermath of a May 4 home start against the Dodgers, not his last outing May 9 at San Diego.
"While pitching during the recent Dodgers game in Miami, he was struck by a ball on his rear thigh," Ralph Fernandez's statement read. "This prompted a completely unanticipated change in delivery which neither the staff nor his coaches could discern...Despite many exchanges on the subject in the days that followed he felt that with the Marlins regaining first place in the division he could not let his team down. Apparently the injury was worse than he believed."
Though Jose Fernandez confided in his friend and attorney, he did not share the information with the club's athletic trainers. Though he hit his usual upper-90s fastball velocity early in last week's start at Petco Park, by the end of the 5-plus inning outing it was in the low 90s.
Ill before the game with a stomach issue, the Marlins chalked it up to decreased energy as a result of Fernandez throwing up before taking the mound.
"The first we heard about him having a sore arm was after the game in San Diego," manager Mike Redmond said. "If his arm wasn't feeling good or had any discomfort at all, the right person to tell would be me or the trainers or (pitching coach) Chuck (Hernandez). We could have taken care of it at that time. If it was bothering him he should have said something."
Ralph Fernandez also revealed in the third inning of the Petco Park game, Jose "suffered a traumatic event" and remained in the game. Whether he felt a pop or something else in the elbow is unclear. Whatever happened, Fernandez did a good job hiding it. He completed two more innings and faced four batters in the sixth.
After the game, Fernandez informed manager Mike Redmond of his discomfort and he almost immediately was scheduled for magnetic resonance imaging with Dodgers' team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Job Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles. Dr. ElAttrache diagnosed a significant tear in Fernandez's ulnar collateral ligament and recommended surgery. The Marlins' medical staff concurred and Fernandez returned to Dr. ElAttrache for the procedure.
Also in his statement, Ralph Fernandez addressed reports of Jose receiving advice against the surgery. Among those who did not think it was a good idea was personal pitching coach Orlando Chinea, largely credited with giving Fernandez his physical and mental foundation.
A former pitching coach in Cuba and Japan, Chinea began working with a 15-year-old Fernandez in Tampa upon his escape from Cuba. By his senior year at Tampa Alonso, Fernandez was a lead-pipe lock to go in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft. The Marlins took him 16th overall.
Reached earlier this week, China expressed his opinion that Tommy John was unnecessary. He also was critical of Fernandez for participating in just 17 days of workouts during the offseason, opting instead for rigorous cycling that in Chinea's estimation did not to prepare Jose's arm.
"I know him perfectly," Chinea said. "I know his weaknesses. I know the tension he generates in his arm when he pitches. If he has the surgery I hold the Miami Marlins responsible. That would be like sitting the kid in the electric chair. The kid is 21-years-old."
Chinea added that even with the severity of Fernandez's tear, he could rehabilitate him in six to eight weeks and eliminate the need for surgery.
Ralph Fernandez's statement didn't specifically refer to Chinea, but it read: "Many people, including some very close to Jose, have expressed opinions about the merits of surgery. Frustration has run high. One of the practical factors that we considered in reaching the decision that he follow the consensus in medical advice was the absolute agreement between Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Marlins, and Scott Boras, Jose's agent. Their agreement on anything Jose, from a legal and practical perspective, creates an irrefutable presumption that this was the proper course."
The course for Fernandez now is 12- to 18-months of rehab before pitching for the Marlins again. He has plenty of in-house resources to lean on during the process. The recently acquired Randy Wolf underwent his second Tommy John surgery after the 2012 season and has expressed an eagerness to sit down with Fernandez.
Nathan Eovaldi underwent Tommy John as a 17-year-old while in high school. Now 24, Eovaldi can boast the highest average fastball velocity (95.7 mph) among National League starters.
"If he does his rehab right and he's smart and has a slight bit of (obsessive compulsive disorder) with his program, he'll be back to the dominant pitcher he is," Wolf said.
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