MIAMI -- The Marlins were playing their 66th game of the season Friday night. For Rafael Furcal, it was like Opening Day.
Furcal was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list on Friday and was making his 2014 debut for Miami. He had been out with a left hamstring strain and a right groin strain.
The 37-year-old Furcal, who signed as a free agent for $3.5 million, also is returning to big league action for the first time since he was with the Cardinals 2012. He missed all of last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.
"It's been very tough," the 14-year Major League veteran said. "It's been a long year, last year and this year. I wanted to be with the team since the first game of the season, but my hamstring wouldn't let me. But now it's pretty good. I played in the Minor Leagues [on rehab assignment] more than I think my whole career."
To clear 40-man roster space for Furcal, Miami designated right-hander Angel Sanchez, who was at Double-A Jacksonville. Sanchez was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay. The Marlins obtained Sanchez last July as part of the Ricky Nolasco trade with the Dodgers.
Furcal's arrival means that for the first time, Miami's top of the order fell in line as the organization expected at the start of Spring Training. Manager Mike Redmond batted Furcal first on Friday against the Pirates at Marlins Park, followed by Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Casey McGehee.
"We're excited," Redmond said. "This is what we envisioned at the beginning of the season for Opening Day, and it didn't happen. Raffy got banged up a few different times. I know all the guys are excited to have him back and have him at the top of the order."
Yelich had been hitting primarily in the leadoff spot. As Redmond noted, he can flip-flop the two on occasion.
"I think Yeli did a great job filling in for him in that role, and it was a great experience for him," Redmond said. "He will hit second and hopefully he continues to have the at-bats he's had, and I know he will. It's good to be able to pencil Raffy in there every night. Hopefully he will be a big spark for us."
Furcal brings 1,605 games of experience, plus playoff game experience in nine of 14 seasons, to a youthful Miami squad that entered Friday tied with Atlanta, one game behind first-place Washington in the National League East.
"In Spring Training, I said we've got a pretty good team," Furcal said. "If we play together, and everybody is healthy, I think this team can be competitive, because we've got a lot of good, young talent. You can see it right now. I don't know how far back we are, but I know we're close. We've got a lot of young guys who know how to play baseball. I will try to do my best."
Furcal's comeback season got off on rough footing. In Spring Training he strained his left hamstring and opened the season on the disabled list. During a rehab-assignment game in late April with Double-A Jacksonville, he received another setback when he strained his right groin.
"It's very tough when you are rehabbing for one thing, and then you hurt something else, it's very frustrating," Furcal said. "But I put in my mind that I've got to work as hard as I can to try to get healthy."
Furcal played in six rehab-assignment games from May 30-June 10 after recovering from his groin injury. In all, Furcal batted .297 (11-for-37) with two doubles and four stolen bases.
Furcal is a career .281 hitter with a .346 on-base percentage and 1,059 runs scored.
"A lot of experience," Redmond said. "He's been around and played in a lot of big games, and I think more than anything, he represents stability. He's been around a long time."