By Andy Bixler The News Tribune
For the first time since 2003, the Seattle Mariners are sending four players to the All-Star Game.
More importantly, they are sending the American League’s starting pitcher, Felix Hernandez.
Hernandez was picked to start Tuesday’s game at Target Field by AL manager John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox. Hernandez is the second Mariners pitcher to start the Midsummer Classic, following Randy Johnson in 1995 and 1997.
“It’s an honor,” Hernandez said in a press conference Monday.
It’s the fifth consecutive time Hernandez, 27, has been an All-Star. He’s pitched two scoreless innings for the AL, and allowed one hit.
Hernandez has never been better at this point in the season, posting the lowest earned run average (2.11, best in the AL and second in the major leagues behind the 1.83 of National League starter Adam Wainwright of St. Louis.) and most wins (11-2) of his career.
“There are many deserving candidates to be the starting pitcher for this team,” Farrell said. “But given what he’s done over a long successful career, what he’s doing this year, it’s an honor to name Felix our starter.”
Hernandez leads the league in win percentage (.846), games started, innings pitched (144.1) and FIP, or fielding independent pitching, which measures what a pitchers ERA would be if the fielding behind him were league average. If that were the case on all the balls he puts in play, his ERA would be 2.02.
He also earns the distinction of being the first Venezuelan-born pitcher to start an All-Star game.
“To be the first Venezuelan guy, it’s something special,” he said.
Hernandez will be joined by Mariners closer Fernando Rodney, second baseman Robinson Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager.
The All-Star Game is nothing new for Cano, who is a six-time All-Star who’s started at second base each of the last four. He will be reunited with his ex-Yankees teammate, Derek Jeter, who is the AL’s starting shortstop.
Cano, who will bat third, is hitting .334 this season, and has 56 RBI. He hopes to get a few at-bats during the game.
He’s only had seven plate appearances as an All-Star, including just one last year, something he thinks is wrong.
“Sometimes, you get elected, you get one at-bat, and then you get replaced. Sometimes, the guy who comes (as a replacement) gets three at-bats. The starter should get three at-bats,” he said.
Cano, who’s finished in the top six of the MVP voting the last four years, said if he could make a change with the All-Star Game format, he would make it mandatory that starters hit three times.
“The game is for the fans,” he said. “They should see who they elected. A few years ago, Ichiro (Suzuki) got elected and got one at-bat. That’s not what fans want.”
As the seasoned All-Star game veteran, Cano will spend part of his week showing around Seager, who is making his first appearance.
“I’ve already talked to him about it,” the Mariners’ third baseman said. “I’m basically just going to follow him around and he’s going to introduce me to a lot of the guys and show me the ropes.”
Initially left off the roster, Seager was named to the team to replace Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion, who is on the 15-day DL with a quad injury. Seager, 26, ranks second among AL third baseman in RBI, home runs and ranks third in average, on-base percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging). Many saw his initial omission from the roster as a snub — one that was rectified when he was named to the team.
“It’s a great honor,” Seager said. “It’s something I’m extremely excited about, to go and be around all these guys and talk to them for a few days, pick their brains.
“It’s exciting for sure just to go there and meet all these guys that I grew up watching and have been playing with for a few years now. It’s really exciting.”
Seager and Cano give the M’s two position players on the team, something Seattle hasn’t had since 2006, when infielder Jose Lopez and outfielder Suzuki were on the team. And with the late addition of Rodney, the Mariners had their most players selected since 2003 when four players went to the All-Star Game.
Rodney, 37, was named to his second All-Star game Saturday, replacing former teammate David Price of Tampa Bay, who pitched Sunday and won’t be available. Rodney’s 27 saves lead all of baseball, and he has a 1.98 ERA in 37 appearances.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, who said he will watch the game from his home in Indiana, thinks having four players speaks to the improvements his team has made as the year’s progressed.
This year the Mariners are 51-44 at the break, compared to 43-52 last year.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” McClendon said. “And I think in the very near future there are going to be even more All-Stars.”