Jose Fernandez's Return Shows He Can Energize the Miami Marlins

I hope you had Fernandez stashed on your bench somewhere.

Before the season started, one of the reasons I liked the Miami Marlins as a potential wild card team in the National League was the impending return of stud starter Jose Fernandez.

You see, I didn't anticipate Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich being downright ordinary. I didn't think closer A.J. Ramos would be leading all pitchers in fWAR (1.2) as of July 2, including starters. And speaking of those starters, I didn't think they would have the third-lowest fWAR and the sixth-highest ERA and Fielding Independent Pitching by this point in the season.

I expected to see a team that was capable of hanging in there until Fernandez was ready to join them, which would then give them the boost they needed to make a true playoff push.

Well, at least Fernandez pitched like gangbusters on Thursday.

In his first Major League start back from Tommy John surgery, the 22-year-old right-hander was outstanding, going six innings and giving up three earned runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and no walks, featuring a fastball that topped out at 99 miles per hour. In case you missed it, here's a taste.

All that was missing from that long solo homer was an epic bat flip. Alas, none was forthcoming. Thankfully, Brian McCann was nowhere to be found.

But it's easy to forget just how ridiculously good Fernandez is and how much he energizes that Miami team. Coming into Thursday's start against the Giants, Fernandez had made 36 career starts and pitched 224 1/3 innings with a 2.25 ERA and a 2.60 FIP, striking out 10.31 batters per nine innings while walking just 2.78. Opponents have hit .181 against him in his career, with a career walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of 0.97.

Playing at Marlins Park certainly helps too. Fernandez is undefeated in his career in Miami, 13-0 with a 1.23 ERA in 21 starts. And especially important was how he settled down as the game went on. He was clearly jacked up in the first inning when he gave up two of his three runs and retired the last six batters he faced, while walking nobody. The control was there, the emotion was there, and the heat was there.

So what can we expect from Fernandez from here on out? Based on what we saw Thursday, a return of the kind of pitcher we saw before he got hurt last year, with an ERA in the mid-to-high twos, a ton of strikeouts and a low walk rate. However, he did have a bit of an issue with his fastball against San Francisco Thursday.

The Giants were on his fastball a bit, but his slider was nasty, and it's likely the fastball will improve as his location improves with more innings under his belt.

Basically, baseball is more fun with Jose Fernandez back on the hill. Even if he doesn't turn the Marlins into a playoff team.