Chen to start Monday vs. Nats barring setback

Left-hander has been on DL since July with left elbow sprain

Chen to start Monday vs. Nats barring setback

PHILADELPHIA -- The only thing standing between Wei-Yin Chen and his first Major League start since July 20 is a bullpen session he will throw on Saturday.

If all goes according to plan, Chen will make his return from a left elbow sprain on Monday to open the Marlins' series against the Nationals at Marlins Park. Chen will replace rookie right-hander Jake Esch in the rotation, while giving Jose Fernandez an extra day's rest.

"I think it's important -- both for the team and myself -- because I haven't been pitching for a really long time," Chen said through an interpreter. "So it's going to be important how I can make a contribution to the team."

Chen, the club's 2016 Opening Day starter and main offseason acquisition, posted a 4.99 ERA -- his highest by almost a full run since coming to the Major Leagues in '12 -- through 19 outings before landing on the disabled list. Esch made it through five innings only once in three big league starts.

Chen isn't likely to go much deeper in his first outing back. He said pitching coach Juan Nieves indicated to him he wouldn't have a hard pitch count, but 80 was about what to expect. Manager Don Mattingly isn't even anticipating that from Chen, who threw 65 pitches in a recent simulated game.

"We'll be careful with him for sure," Mattingly said. "We'll measure the game and see how it's going. … If it's four, if it's five, we're not looking for him to go seven or eight. It'll be a fairly short leash, but hopefully it's more like let's just compete and see how far he can go and not worry about pitching deep into the game or anything like that."

Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.