Sunday, July 1, 2012
Nats get 3 (maybe 4) All-Stars
Updated at 6:45 p.m.
ATLANTA -- For six years, the Nationals sent their mandatory one representative to the All-Star Game. Some (Alfonso Soriano in 2006, Ryan Zimmerman in 2009) truly were worthy. Others (Dmitri Young in 2007, Cristian Guzman in 2008) felt more like token appearances.
Then came Sunday morning in the visitors clubhouse at Turner Field, as Davey Johnson pulled one player aside to let him know he had just been named an All-Star. Then he let another know. Then he let yet another know. Then he let still one more know he was still in contention for the final spot on the National League's roster.
"It kind of shows you how the times are changing around here," Zimmerman said.
When the NL All-Stars are introduced in Kansas City in nine days, Stephen Strasburg's name will be called. So will Gio Gonzalez's name. And so will Ian Desmond's name.
And, pending the outcome of MLB's online "Final Vote" competition, Bryce Harper could join that trio at Kauffman Stadium and give the Nationals four times as many All-Stars as they've had at the last six Midsummer Classics.
"That's more like it," Johnson said. "Three of my boys are on the All-Star team, and I'm proud of them."
All four Nationals learned of their All-Star fates shortly before Sunday's series finale against the Braves. Strasburg and Gonzalez were selected by their fellow players to serve on the NL's pitching staff. Desmond was selected by manager Tony La Russa as a reserve shortstop.
Harper, meanwhile, learned he's one of five NL players in contention for the "Final Vote" spot on the roster, with fans now left to choose between the 19-year-old outfielder and four other contenders: retiring Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, teammate Michael Bourn, Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill and Cardinals third baseman David Freese.
"Obviously when you get more than one guy, get Desi and Gio in there too, it's huge," Strasburg said. "It means that we're winning. Typically the team in last place only gets one guy. So it's nice to ... correct me if I'm wrong, but this might be the first time with three?"
Indeed, this is only the second time the Nationals have boasted more than one All-Star since the franchise arrived in town (Chad Cordero and Livan Hernandez both were selected in 2005) and the first time they've sent more than two players to the game.
Strasburg (9-3, 2.81 ERA, MLB-high 122 strikeouts) and Gonzalez (11-3, 3.01 ERA, 112 strikeouts following Sunday's win) appeared to be locks to make the club, and each pitcher was selected by their fellow players.
This is Strasburg's first All-Star selection, and the 23-year-old was humbled to learn the news only 10 months since he made his return to the mound following Tommy John surgery.
"It's going to be a tremendous experience and it's a huge honor for me," the right-hander said. "It's amazing to think where I was a year ago. It's great to see the hard work has all paid off, but it's not done. It's only the halfway point in the year, and we've still got a long ways to go."
Gonzalez will be making his second All-Star appearance, having gotten the nod last year while pitching for the Athletics.
"This one means a little bit more, because everyone played a big part of it and everyone worked really hard," the left-hander said. "I'm not taking anything away from Oakland and what they did for me. They did a great job and gave me an opportunity to play. ... But it feels like we all did something big today."
Desmond, meanwhile, earns his first All-Star selection, chosen by La Russa (who while managing the Cardinals last season mentioned the 26-year-old shortstop as one of his favorite players). In his third full big-league seasons, Desmond enters Sunday's game hitting .276 with 13 homers, 43 RBI and a .483 slugging percentage that leads all MLB shortstops.
That's a far cry from where Desmond sat one year ago, when he entered the All-Star break with a .223 batting average, three homers, 22 RBI, a .572 OPS and questions about his long-term viability as a big-league shortstop.
In the equivalent of one full season's worth of games since then, Desmond is hitting .282 with 18 homers, 70 RBI and a .454 slugging percentage.
"It's just a credit to the organization," said Desmond, who was drafted by the Expos in 2004. "Being homegrown is obviously something that I don't take lightly. I hope I can have the opportunity to stay here my whole career. And this, I guess, is a thanks to them. They put in a lot of work with me."
Harper's inclusion in the "Final Vote" competition would seemingly have guaranteed the popular rookie's spot on the All-Star roster. But MLB threw a wrinkle into the process when it added Jones to the mix. The 40-year-old third baseman, who has already announced he will retire at season's end, will be a sentimental choice for many fans.
Even Harper (who is now hitting .274 with eight homers, 22 RBI and an .819 OPS as a teenager) threw his support for Jones.
"I think a Hall of Famer should be able to go to the All-Star Game his last year," Harper said. "If I was going to make a vote, I'd go vote for Chip."
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 6:45 PM