MIAMI -- Jose Fernandez walked into the Miami Marlins' clubhouse four hours before game time and extended his left arm to shake hands with teammates.
His right arm rested in a sling and was encased in a cast from above the elbow to his hand.
"I'm excited," Fernandez said with a grin. "I'm throwing a bullpen tomorrow lefty."
That would be the only way last season's NL Rookie of the Year would be able to pitch anytime soon. Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow Friday, and he is expected to be out 12 to 18 months.
He rejoined the Marlins on Tuesday for the start of their six-game homestand, but only as a spectator. He also spoke to reporters for the first time since the operation.
Fernandez said he felt a pinch in his elbow during a start against the Dodgers on May 4, and was at less than 100 percent in his final start May 9 at San Diego. He said he didn't tell anyone because missing a start wasn't an appealing option.
"I said, 'I can't do this to my team. We're in first place. I can't let them down right now,'" Fernandez said. "It's nobody's fault. It happened. It's sad it did. I don't blame anybody, and I don't regret not saying anything. That was my call. Probably it wasn't the smartest thing, but this is my team, and I give my life for my team."
An attorney for Fernandez released a statement last week saying the pitcher changed his delivery for his final start, but Fernandez said it was nothing his team or manager could detect.
"I was trying not to let anybody see that I was in a little pain," he said.
Fernandez said the ligament came off the bone, leaving him no choice but to undergo surgery. At the time he led the majors in strikeouts, and was 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA.
"It was sad not because I got hurt, but because I felt like I let my team down," he said. "That was the tough part. I felt bad, but I can take care of this and be back and strong."
Tuesday would have been Fernandez's day to pitch as the Marlins opened a series against the Phillies.
"He's going to be out a long time, but we know he's on the road to recovery," manager Mike Redmond said. "We know a lot of guys come back and either pitch the same or better. It's tough to see him in the sling, but we know he's going to be back."
Fernandez underwent surgery in Los Angeles. He plans to return there next week to have his cast and stitches removed, before the long rehabilitation process begins.
The Cuban defector said he's eager to get started.
"To me this is just a little bump in the road," he said. "I've been through a lot more stuff, tougher things. This is just something I've got to learn from."
At age 21, Fernandez has a 16-8 record with a 2.25 ERA in 36 career starts. Does he anticipate he'll be able to pitch as well when he returns?
"I hope better," he said. "I'm going to be out for a year. I'd better learn a lot of things and get a lot stronger. I can't wait to get back on the mound. It's going to be a special day. It's far away, but we have to take the little steps to get there."