Jul 6, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
A Nationals club that boasts the NL’s fourth-best record but fewer dominant performances by individuals so far this season received only one All-Star selection Sunday evening: right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.
There’s still a chance of more Washington representation at Minnesota’s Target Field on July 15, with infielder Anthony Rendon one of five candidates in the NL’s Final Vote competition. But barring a Rendon victory or injury substitution by someone else, the Nationals won’t play a major role in this Midsummer Classic.
“We’re pretty much a first-place team, and we’ve only got one guy. I think that’s a little odd,” center fielder Denard Span said. “We’ll see what happens. Hopefully Rendy gets on and we’ll have two guys representing the Washington Nationals.”
The most-surprising development from the Nationals’ perspective: No members of the majors’ top bullpen were selected. A case could be made for any of three late-inning relievers: closer Rafael Soriano (1.03 ERA, 21-of-23 in save opportunities) and setup men Drew Storen (1.33 ERA after giving up a run Sunday) and Tyler Clippard (1.89 ERA).
“It’s a joke, to be honest with you,” said Clippard, who had a 1.86 ERA at the time of his selection for the 2011 All-Star Game. “I don’t know who’s going to make it. I’m sure there’s a lot of worthy guys out there in the league that have done really well, but what Soriano has done this year, there’s no way he doesn’t make the All-Star team in my opinion. The guy’s got [almost] a 1.00 ERA and 21 saves. It’s incredible that he didn’t make it. …
“It’s eye-popping stuff. You have to take notice. Somebody didn’t take notice, and it doesn’t seem right. But I’m not making those decisions. It’s just surprising.”
Cases could also be made for Adam LaRoche, who ranks third among all NL first basemen with a .883 OPS and fifth among all NL players with a .401 on-base percentage, and Ian Desmond, who leads all NL shortstops with 53 RBI and ranks second with 15 homers.
In the end, with no position players voted on by fans, and no others selected in the player vote, NL manager Mike Matheny was left to choose one guy off the roster and went with Zimmermann.
“I’m sure Mike took a hard look at everybody that’s deserving and available,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “Regardless of whether they are added or something happens, we’re proud of the way they have performed.”
The guy who did get picked earned the selection based off an absolutely dominant five weeks on the mound. After a May 28 loss to the Marlins, Zimmermann sported a 4.07 ERA and questions about his suddenly hittable repertoire.
But in seven starts since, including Sunday’s six scoreless innings against the Cubs, Zimmermann has posted a sparkling 1.26 ERA with 46 strikeouts and only seven walks. Overall, he’s now 6-4 with a 2.79 ERA, ranking in the NL’s top 10.
“Five weeks ago, I was thinking I’d be home having a little vacation,” the right-hander said. “I just started throwing strikes and locating a lot better. The slider finally came back. I didn’t have it for a month-and-a-half. I was able to get that back, and that’s a big pitch for me.”
This is Zimmermann’s second career (and second consecutive) All-Star selection, but this will mark his first opportunity to actually appear in the game. Though he attended last summer’s event at New York’s Citi Field, he was held out due to a lingering neck injury that continued to bother him into the second half of the season.
“Last year, being the first time, I wanted to [pitch], but I was a little banged up,” he said. “This year, it’s going to be good.”
Zimmermann, who grew up only three hours from Minneapolis in tiny Auburndale, Wisc., figures to have plenty of friends and family in attendance at Target Field. Teammates and fans in Washington have known it for some time, but the rest of the baseball world is starting to recognize just how good the 28-year-old has been over an extended period.
“He’s been so consistent for the last four or five years,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “He deserves every bit of credit he’s gotten.”
Zimmerman played in the 2009 All-Star Game and he was in the Final Vote in 2010. This will be the sixth straight year in which a Nationals player is in that competition; none of the previous candidates won: Cristian Guzman (2009), Michael Morse (2011) Bryce Harper (2012) and Ian Desmond (2013). (Harper did make the 2012 game as an injury replacement.)
Rendon faces stiff competition this year in online voting that runs through Thursday: Marlins first baseman Casey McGehee, Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Braves outfielder Justin Upton.
The case for Rendon: He’s hitting .282 with 12 homers, 21 doubles and 50 RBI, all while bouncing between second and third bases in his first full season in the major leagues.
“I just think he’s played really well,” Williams said. “The fact that he’s in that final grouping says a lot about his season and the way he’s played. He’s handled himself very well for being a very good player. He certainly deserves consideration, that’s for sure.”
The happy-go-lucky Rendon isn’t making a big deal out of this and insisted he won’t be openly campaigning for himself.
“It would be pretty cool,” he said. “I’m not getting my hopes up. I’m not getting my highs too high or my lows too low. There’s definitely a lot of guys who are deserving, especially on that list. I don’t think I should make it. I should be home.”
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