MIAMI — Rafael Furcal made his long-awaited return to the majors in his Miami Marlins debut Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Furcal, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason to be the club’s second baseman and leadoff hitter, was reinstated Friday after having been on the 60-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain and right groin strain.
He went hitless in six at-bats with two strikeouts, but he did walk and score during a four-run ninth inning.
"We’re excited," manager Mike 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."
Since May 29, he played in 11 minor-league games during his three rehab stints between Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. Twice his assignments had to be cut short by injuries. In 10 games for the Suns, Furcal hit .297 with two doubles and four stolen bases. With the Hammerheads, he batted .316 with an RBI and a stolen base in 11 games.
The three-time All-Star is a 13-year veteran, a lifetime .281 hitter with 113 home runs, 585 RBI and 314 stolen bases. With the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012, his season was cut short on Aug. 30. He missed all of 2013 with Tommy John surgery Furcal got just 18 at-bats this spring training because of a hamstring injury that kept him out of Grapefruit League action since March 21.
"It’s been very tough," said Furcal, who expected family and friends in attendance. "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 (laughs)."
Redmond does not yet know how often Furcal will get days off, but they will most likely work around matinee games following night contests.
Of Furcal’s 1,590 big-league games, just 36 have been at second — most recently in 2004 as a member of the Atlanta Braves. With Adeiny Hechavarria at short, Furcal can provide a veteran presence to the 25-year-old Cuban.
"He’s a guy who just understands the game," Redmond said of Furcal. "He can bunt, he has a feel for butting, when to bunt, when not to bunt, when to run, when not to run. A lot of experience. 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. You know what you’re going to get out of him. He’s going to play every day, and that’s always — for a manager — it’s nice to have a guy who you know what you’re going to get out of every single day. Hopefully he’ll continue to feel good and the health stuff is behind him and we can get a lot out of him these next few months.
"I think it’ll be great for Hech having another guy with his experience be able to talk to Hech and understand game situations and all the things Raffy’s been through. You have a guy with such a wealth of knowledge at second base now to be able to talk to day in and day out. I think it’ll be great. It was one of the reasons amongst a couple others why we signed Raffy was to bring leadership and be that influence on Hech and our Latin guys. That’s another plus not just having him in the lineup every day. Him being a mentor to a guy like Hech."
In Furcal’s absence, Christian Yelich hit .263 with 12 doubles, four triples, six homers and 22 RBI as the leadoff batter. Four players have started at second, with Derek Dietrich seeing the most action (36 games). He was sent down to the minors prior to this past roadtrip. Ed Lucas has 12 starts, followed by Jeff Baker (10) and Donovan Solano (seven).
The Marlins made room for the 36-year-old on the 25-man roster by optioning first baseman Justin Bour to Triple-A New Orleans following Wednesday’s game against the Texas Rangers. The Tampa Bay Rays claimed right-hander Angel Sanchez off waivers as the corresponding 40-man roster move. Sanchez was acquired in last year’s Ricky Nolasco trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sanchez, 24, was 0-8 with a 6.88 ERA in 12 starts for the Suns. He was designated for assignment prior to the transaction with the Rays.
Although he had a locker in the home clubhouse, Furcal spent most of his time rehabbing away from Marlins Park. He did, however, keep up with how the club was performing.
Miami (34-31) enters the weekend series against Pittsburgh 1.5 games behind the Washington Nationals for first 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 try to do my best."
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who remains on the disabled list with a concussion, was expected to sit in the dugout with the club during Friday’s game. He has been progressing to game activity.
"Still the plan for him is to go to Jupiter and play on Monday, but he’s swinging and moving around and playing catch," Redmond said. "He’s doing all baseball activities. It’s just a matter of him continuing to be symptom free. The plan is to see the doctor again — I don’t know exactly what day it is — between now and Monday. If everything is fine he’ll be cleared to play on Monday."