Jose's recovery comes full circle in San Diego

All-Star Fernandez back at Petco Park, where he sustained elbow injury in '14 that led to TJ surgery

Jose's recovery comes full circle in San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- His journey is inspiring. His enthusiasm is addicting. And his ability to throw a baseball is exhilarating. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez is one of the bright young faces of the game, and tonight, he has a chance to also gain closure in a ballpark where he endured his most painful professional setback.

Facing the Padres on May 9, 2014, Fernandez exited Petco Park with a torn right elbow ligament. A week later, he underwent Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the rest of that season and half of the 2015 campaign. Twenty-six months later, Fernandez is back in San Diego as a National League All-Star.

"I'm lucky," Fernandez said on Monday. "The right word is lucky. It's been a lot of hard work. I'm not going to lie to you, a lot of hard work and tough times. That's what life is all about. I'm just happy to be here."

Fernandez is expected to throw an inning for the NL tonight in the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

The 23-year-old last pitched on Friday, and initially, he was under consideration to start for the NL, but manager Terry Collins of the Mets opted instead to go with San Francisco's Johnny Cueto.

Because Fernandez is on an innings plan, the Marlins preferred their ace not throw two innings.

The ultimate goal is to find a way for Fernandez to pitch the entire season and potentially into the postseason. So he is working within a range of around 180-200 innings.

"Baseball players want to pitch in the postseason, so you're trying to calculate that to where it works out well for everybody," said agent Scott Boras, who represents Fernandez.

No Marlins pitcher has ever started the All-Star Game, and Fernandez certainly had worthy credentials. He's 11-4 with a 2.52 ERA, and his 154 strikeouts are second in the Majors to Washington's Max Scherzer. Fernandez's strikeouts per nine innings (12.91), however, are best in the league.

Born in Cuba, Fernandez successfully defected at age 15 on his third try, and he settled in Tampa, Fla., where he developed his pitching skills. Five years later he was in the big leagues, becoming an All-Star and NL Rookie of the Year in 2013.

From a personal standpoint, pitching on Tuesday will also be a time for Fernandez to close the chapter on his elbow injury in 2014.

"It's going to be my first time pitching here since that," Fernandez said. "I'm looking forward to it. I love this city. It's beautiful. I love the stadium. I have a bunch of people here, family and friends. It's going to be cool."

It's been smooth sailing for Fernandez in 2016. But as dominating as he has been for most of the season, he was a bit rusty early. In the righty's first six starts, he was 3-2 (4.28) with 47 strikeouts and 16 walks in 32 2/3 innings. His WHIP was 1.34.

If Fernandez has a weakness, it is pitching away from Marlins Park, where he is 8-1 with a 1.53 ERA. On the road, he's a more vulnerable 3-3 with a 4.01 ERA.

But in his last 11 starts, Fernandez is 8-2 (1.71) with 107 strikeouts and 15 walks in 73 2/3 innings, with a WHIP of 0.87.

Fernandez is one of four Marlins at the All-Star Game, joining Marcell Ozuna, A.J. Ramos and Fernando Rodney.

"That makes it even more fun," Fernandez said. "You see four guys. I think it's going to be great."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.