When new Marlins manager Don Mattingly fills out his lineup card for Wednesday night's game vs. the Detroit Tigers, he'll be able to write in two names that Miami fans have been waiting to see play together in a game that counted for nearly two years.
Indeed, the Marlins' uber-talented but injury-riddled duo of right-handed pitcher Jose Fernandez and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton will finally share the field in a regular season game for the first time since May 9, 2014.
Fernandez, still just 23, is unquestionably the most talented arm on Miami's staff, as he's posted a 22-9 record with a career 2.40 ERA in 47 major league starts. But he missed most of 2014 and half of the 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and had another stint on the disabled list last August after suffering a bicep strain. He would return to finish the season, but the Marlins will still take the cautious approach this year; Miami is expected to set an innings limit on Fernandez — sound familiar, Nationals fans? — holding him to around 180 frames and shuffling around his starts down the stretch if the team is in contention.
Meanwhile, Stanton announced his return to the game with authority Tuesday night when he launched a towering 401-foot bomb off Justin Verlander. The moonshot was a nice reminder that even though Bryce Harper is the game's premier slugger the reigning NL MVP, there's still another big bopper that resides in the NL East. Despite missing 88 games last season due to a wrist injury, Stanton belted 27 home runs and was named to his third All-Star Game. However, he has yet to prove that he can stay healthy for a full 162-game slate. In three of his last four seasons, he's missed at least 39 games.
"Obviously, those guys, if they're healthy, you're better," Mattingly said recently. "Jose, from a pitching standpoint, you know what you're going to get almost every time out. Giancarlo, you know if he stays healthy he's going to put up numbers.
"One guy is not going to get it done for you. One guy can change your lineup around, but you need a whole group of guys having good years to be able to win. We're going to need a lot of contributions."
Mattingly is right that if the Marlins are to be surprise contenders in the NL East, they'll need more than just two players on the roster to step up. But it's hard to envision them in a pennant race (or even with an above .500 record) without Stanton and Fernandez playing a major part in it.