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Fernandez to have limits loosened in 2014

Fernandez to have limits loosened in 2014

Fernandez to have limits loosened in 2014

MIAMI -- As Jose Fernandez prepares for his sophomore season, the 21-year-old makes it clear he is ready to graduate to another innings level.

Half-jokingly, Fernandez proclaimed: "There won't be any innings limits, because I will get pretty upset."

Still, Fernandez understands the Marlins have a plan to gradually increase his innings. That range hasn't been firmly set, but it appears 200 innings is certainly possible.

A Tampa resident, Fernandez plans on getting together with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, who also lives in the area, to discuss when to start up his offseason throwing schedule.

Named the National League Rookie of the Year Award winner on Monday, Fernandez clearly is ready to have the restrictions from 2013 removed. Before throwing a pitch this past season, Miami imposed a range of 150-170 innings for the hard-throwing right-hander. Fernandez slightly exceeded the total, finishing with 172 2/3 innings.

Even though the team shut him down after his Sept. 11 start against the Braves, Fernandez showed enough to be a convincing NL Rookie of the Year Award winner. He received 26 of 30 first-place votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Fernandez also is a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award, which will be announced Wednesday.

Although Fernandez finished first in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting, he ranked 39th in the league in total innings. It's not unreasonable to bump Fernandez up another 30 innings next year, getting him around 200.

Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said the team hasn't set an exact number.

"We haven't dug into what it's going to be," Hill said. "But you'll still be talking about a 21-year-old, who is a big part of our future. We're going to keep that in mind as we put it in place."

So there will be some parameters for Fernandez, just as there are for pretty much every young pitcher who hasn't fully established himself.

Because of his age, Fernandez is pretty much in uncharted waters when it comes to formulating an innings progression. Since 1969, when the mound was raised to its current height -- 10 inches above home plate -- just 17 times has a pitcher who opened the season at age 20 or younger thrown at least 162 innings.

Fernandez turned 21 on July 31.

In 2012, when he was at the Class A level, Fernandez threw 134 innings in the regular season.

As for next year, Hill noted the team's young ace will not have as many limitations.

"It won't be as stringent as it was in his first season," Hill said. "But we're not going to have him go out and throw 300 innings."

Fernandez enjoyed one of the best rookie seasons by a pitcher since Dwight Gooden dominated at age 19 in 1984.

Fernandez was the Marlins' top young pitcher in 2013, but next year, that distinction may go to prospect Andrew Heaney. The left-hander was the ninth overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. On Tuesday, Heaney was named Pitcher of the Week in the Arizona Fall League.

For the week, Heaney was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings. Through the first five weeks of the Fall League, he is 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA in six starts with 21 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings.

Heaney projects to open the season at Double-A Jacksonville, but he could be a candidate to be called up sometime next year. In Arizona, Heaney was throwing 91-94 mph, and he has an effective slider and changeup.

"He has three-plus pitches, and a feel of pitches and good velocity," Hill said. "He has an 'out-pitch' with his breaking ball."

• In other Miami news, the Spring Training schedule has not officially be announced, but the Marlins are finalizing plans to play the Yankees twice in Panama.

The exhibition games are tentatively set for March 15-16 in Panama City, near the home of recently retired Yankees great Mariano Rivera.

• Also, the Marlins remain committed at the General Managers Meetings to address their biggest area of need: offense.

"This is your first opportunity to get to see your counterparts," Hill said. "You're assessing needs and sharing thoughts and seeing if there are fits. You take all that info, download it, and see if there are fits or deals to be made."

In potential trades, the Marlins feel like they have some attractive pitching prospects who could be used to bring in players to upgrade the offense.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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