The Miami Marlins got quite the shock on Monday. Jose Fernandez was sent to Los Angeles for an MRI to check his elbow. According to Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network, the diagnosis was a sprained elbow. That diagnosis specifically points to UCL involvement. The UCL is the ligament replaced in Tommy John surgery.
Naturally, the Marlins are very concerned. After his MRI, Fernandez was sent back to Miami to consult with team physicians. The team is worried, as indicated here:
Redmond said "always concerned" could be TJ for pitcher with elbow injury. Not known yet if Fernandez will require that.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) May 12, 2014
The trip to Los Angeles is guided by the Marlins being on the West Coast. It is commonly believed but unconfirmed that Fernandez was sent to the world-famous Kerlan-Jobe Clinic. While he could have had the MRI anywhere, Los Angeles Dodgers team physician Neal ElAttrache is one of the most respected surgeons in the game and could give a consult. Baseball teams do not travel with their own doctors and often use those of other teams in similar circumstances.
Fernandez, who finished third in last year's Cy Young voting, has only pitched 220 innings in the major leagues and had only 26 starts in the minor leagues, as he dominated at every level he stopped at. While Fernandez was born in Cuba, he lived in South Florida and went to a U.S. high school, where he was scouted closely throughout much of his career.
Like most pitchers, there are no good stats on how much he was used in high school or for travel teams, but he was someone who showed up at many of the showcase events with his plus velocity. There is no evidence that Fernandez was overused at any level. Fernandez has even been praised for his pitch efficiency.
Fernandez has plus velocity, though he is certainly not solely reliant on it, as Troy Tulowitzki recently found out. His mix of pitches is almost identical to last year. His velocity had been consistent, but in the fifth inning of his last game, it appeared to have taken a major drop down. This could be where the injury happened.
Fernandez has none of the red flags we normally look for. He has no high-innings totals and was all but shut down at the end of his rookie season by the Marlins. He has no games with excessive pitch counts. Few point to any mechanical issues, though Chris O'Leary suggests that Fernandez has changed his mechanics.
If Fernandez is found to have a sprained UCL, it will be further proof that all the standard things that teams currently do to protect pitchers aren't working. Fernandez isn't yet locked into the path that too many pitchers are headed, losing a year of his young career to surgery and rehab, but we have to wonder what more has to happen before baseball changes its approach.