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."
Back spasms force Yelich out after first inning
MIAMI -- Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich exited the game after the first inning with back spasms on Friday night in a 8-6, 13-inning loss to the Pirates at Marlins Park.
The team initially called it a lower back strain, and the 22-year-old is listed as day to day.
Yelich said he felt a tug when he fielded Gregory Polanco's single to lead off the game. The left fielder stayed in the game and bounced out to shortstop in his lone at-bat. He said the best he could move at was half-speed.
Shortly after returning to the dugout, Yelich headed toward the clubhouse, and he was replaced in left field by Reed Johnson in the second inning.
"It feels tight," Yelich said. "I'm not getting around here too fast right now. We'll see what happens. Hopefully I'll wake up tomorrow and it feels better. We're doing everything we can. We'll have to wait and see."
Yelich, batting .259 on the season, is one of the promising young players on the club. On Tuesday night at Texas, he established career highs in hits (four) and RBIs (four) in an 8-5 win.
For much of the season, Yelich has led off. On Friday he was moved to second in the lineup due to the return of Rafael Furcal off the disabled list.
Yelich hasn't dealt with lower back issues before, and he is unclear why he felt discomfort while fielding a routine play in front of him.
"I kind of felt it grab or tighten up after that first hit," Yelich said. "It was kind of just tightening up on me the rest of that inning. I tried to hit. I tried to run to first. Half-speed was the fastest I could go."
The Marlins have been looking forward to seeing how the lineup will function with Furcal and Yelich in front of Giancarlo Stanton.
"It just locked up," Yelich said. "I don't know for what or why. I couldn't keep going. It's frustrating. It's the first time."
Symptom-free Salty remains on schedule
MIAMI -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia was back in the Marlins' dugout Friday, but the catcher remains out of the lineup for at least several more days.
Saltalamacchia, on the seven-day concussion disabled list since June 1, was rooting his teammates on from the dugout on Friday night against the Pirates at Marlins Park. When he first went on the DL, the catcher was advised to stay away from bright lighting and noise.
Saltalamacchia is expected to be transferred to the 15-day disabled list in the coming days because his injury will keep him out at least that long. On Monday, he is scheduled to play in games at the team's complex in Jupiter, Fla.
"He's progressing to game activity," manager Mike Redmond said. "Still, the plan for him is to go to Jupiter and play on Monday, but he's swinging and moving around and playing catch. He's doing all baseball activities."
Saltalamacchia was dazed after being struck in the mask on Justin Upton's foul tip on May 31 when the Braves were in Miami.
In 48 games, the 29-year-old catcher is batting .237 with six home runs and 17 RBIs.
Jeff Mathis and J.T. Realmuto have been handling the catching duties in Saltalamacchia's place.
"It's just a matter of him continuing to be symptom-free," Redmond said. "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."
• The Marlins are very close to signing Tyler Kolek, the second overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Kolek, an 18-year-old who has a 102-mph fastball, was the most overpowering pitcher in the Draft. Miami also is finalizing deals with each of their selections in the first 10 rounds.
• Kevin Gregg, signed recently to a Minor League contract, continues to log innings at Triple-A New Orleans. Gregg is about a week away from joining the Marlins. The veteran reliever is drawing some multi-inning outings to get into game shape.