MIAMI -- Thursday is Harvey Day, the long-awaited return of Matt Harvey to the Mets' rotation. And all spring there were plenty of signs that, while Tommy John recipients are prone toward an adjustment period in their first season back on the mound, Harvey's stuff is more than sharp enough to succeed at a high level.
Soon -- not soon enough for fans of the Fish, but sometime in late June or early July -- it will be Jose Day here at Marlins Park. The 22-year-old Jose Fernandez, who very well might be the only young pitcher on equal footing with Harvey on the excitement scale, will have his own surgically enabled reunion with the Major League mound.
The two right-handers are closely aligned in their ability to become baseball's marquee aces, but their shared experience of elbow ligament replacement and the painfully slow process that follows has inspired a bond off the field, as well. Fernandez has checked in with Harvey at various points in the recovery timetable, inquiring about the progress of his arm strength, his grip, his location. They might be competitors in an improved National League East but, in the long and lonely hell that is a promising career put on pause, they are teammates.
"I call it Team TJ," Fernandez said with a smile.
Team TJ has had many members since Tommy John himself first went under the knife. As of this writing, 954 professional players have had the surgery, according to Baseball Heat Maps' disabled list data, which seems to require a near-daily update. No less than 10.5 percent of those surgeries, which date all the way back to 1974, have taken place since Opening Day 2014.
Unfortunately, the increasing proliferation of the procedure in recent years seems to have inspired a false sense of security about its efficacy.
Yes, Tommy John has a reasonably high success rate of pitchers returning to the Major Leagues, often cited at around 80 percent. But a report by the American Journal of Sports Medicine last year found that, of the 147 Major League pitchers studied, only 67 percent of established pitchers who had the procedure returned to the same level of performance - i.e., both made it back to the Majors and stayed in the Majors - and 57 percent returned to the disabled list because of injuries to the throwing arm.
"What the doctors have accomplished with this surgery is enormous," Fernandez said. "I owe my career to a doctor and a therapist right now. I have no way to pay them back. They gave me my life back, basically, because this is what I do.
"But there are so many things that can go wrong with the surgery. Really, I don't recommend anybody to have it. If I didn't need it, I wouldn't have had it."
That's funny, right? Of course Fernandez wouldn't have had the surgery if his ligament didn't snap. That's common sense.
But get this. In 2011, Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the team physician for the Yankees, led research of 189 baseball players ages 10 to 23 and found that 50 percent believed Tommy John surgery should be performed even if an injury is not present, solely for the purpose of "improving" performance.
That's not funny. That's warped.
"You'd be surprised how many times I've heard that from kids," Fernandez said. "They say, 'Oh, I want to get Tommy John, because then I'm going to throw harder.' Let me tell you something, kid. It's not magic. Otherwise, everybody would do it. It's really complicated and really tough and you have to be really disciplined."
Fernandez, like Harvey, has demonstrated discipline in the rehab process. The guy who used to cycle up to 600 miles a week in the offseason has eschewed that lean-body routine in favor of bulk. His muscular frame looks dramatically different than it did in his 2013 Rookie of the Year season, and he hopes this conditioning allows him to regain and sustain the power arsenal that proved so filthy in his first 36 Major League starts.
The dedication, though, extends beyond the trainer's room and the weight room and into the clubhouse, where Fernandez remains a daily presence hours after his daily therapy rounds are over. Though he's months away from activation (he's scheduled to face live hitters later this month), he's here fraternizing with his teammates and closely watching the games they play, in an effort to keep his mind sharp and his knowledge of the opposition in tune.
"I sat on the bench a lot in my career," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said with a laugh. "You learn a lot sitting on the bench if you want to. It's hard sometimes with young guys to get them to sit. Sometimes you don't know what to look for. But the more time he spends around his teammates and watching the games and getting into that frame of mind again, it's important."
It goes without saying that Fernandez is important to this reconstituted Marlins club. They're hoping he can be the equivalent of a midseason trade acquisition of an established ace and help propel them into the postseason for the first time since 2003.
Frankly, the Marlins need to get as much value out of Fernandez as they can, while they can. Though they succeeded in extending Giancarlo Stanton to that monstrous $325 million contract and extending Christian Yelich on decidedly less-monstrous terms, Fernandez, a Scott Boras client, was unmoved by a reported six-year, $40 million offer over the winter.
In light of the Kris Bryant kerfuffle, it's worth remembering that the Marlins carried Fernandez on their Opening Day roster in 2013 despite him never having set foot above A Ball. Maybe at a time when arms are routinely blowing out, there's no sense in delaying a kid with electric stuff. But the downside to Fernandez's full-season exposure on a '13 Miami club that everybody knew was going nowhere is that he's now logged just 224 1/3 innings for the Marlins so far, and he'll be a free agent at the end of 2018, not '19.
So the injured Fernandez's absence has been frustrating for everybody. But soon, mercifully, this prominent member of Team TJ will make what the Marlins hope is a triumphant -- and meaningful -- return to the top of their rotation.
"That," Redmond said, "is going to be one huge pickup."
It's the same feeling the Mets have with Harvey. But both of the NL East's newly repaired aces will tell you not to take any success they have from this point forward for granted. This surgery's success rate is high, but that doesn't make it a painless, seamless, spotless process.
"I feel like I can pick up where I left off and feel exactly the same way," Fernandez said. "But I don't want to get my hopes up. A lot of things could happen."
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.