MacArthur: Blue Jays send three to All-Star Game

Scott MacArthur
7/7/2013 12:38:43 PM
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TORONTO - The Blue Jays are sending three, perhaps four, players to the All-Star Game in New York City.

Each has his own story of perseverance.

Jose Bautista, 32, will play in his fourth consecutive Midsummer Classic and fourth overall. Starting in right field, this marks the third-straight season he's been voted in by fans.

"It's a great feeling when you go to the All-Star Game," said Bautista. "You're recognized by the fans or your peers or elected by the manager. Obviously, in my case, I got voted in by the fans. It's a great feeling when that happens. I feel very honoured, humbled and proud to be elected. I have to thank all the fans for all the votes. It takes a lot to either vote at the stadium or at home on the computer so I appreciate it a lot."

In 80 games this season, Bautista has a slash line of .264/.360/.511. His 20 home runs tie Bautista for seventh in the American League with the Yankees' Robinson Cano. Bautista's 52 RBI rank second on the Blue Jays and 15th in the American League.

Since arriving in Toronto on August 21, 2008, Bautista has been a model of consistency. He backed up his 54-home run season in 2010 by hitting 43 in 2011. Injury cut short his 2012 campaign; still he had 27 home runs in 92 games. With good health in the second half it's realistic to expect Bautista to challenge the 40-home run mark again.

Originally drafted by Pittsburgh in the 20th round of the 2000 draft, Bautista spent three seasons in the Pirates' organization before his selection by Baltimore in the Rule 5 draft.

Bautista made his major league debut with the Orioles in 2004 but before that season would end, he had made stops in Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

Bautista remained a Pirate, experiencing moderate success, until his trade to the Blue Jays for catcher Robinson Diaz.

"My hard work's paying off, I just have to keep doing it," said Bautista. "But ultimately I think my success is going to be dictated with the success of my team and so far we haven't been able to make it to the playoffs or play for the championship but hopefully that changes in the near future."

If asked, Bautista will consider taking part in the home run derby, which is the marquee event of the festivities the day before the All-Star Game.

Edwin Encarnacion, 30, is enjoying another stellar season. His 23 home runs (T-3rd, American League) and 66 RBI (3rd, American League) lead the Blue Jays. Sporting a slash line of .266/.351/.526, Encarnacion has walked almost as many times (40) as he's struck out (42).

This will be Encarnacion's first All-Star appearance.

"For me this is big," said Encarnacion. "This is my first experience at the All-Star break and I feel very happy and I thank God to give me this opportunity to be at my first All-Star Game."

Prior to his breakout 2012 season of 42 home runs and 110 RBI, Encarnacion had never hit more than 26 or driven in more than 68 (with Cincinnati in 2008).

Quite an accomplishment for a guy who was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays, in June, 2010, less than a year after he was acquired from the Reds for Scott Rolen.

"At the beginning I was always thinking about making the All-Star Game, play in the playoffs or play in the World Series," said Encarnacion. "Now it's come, my first All-Star Game and my next goal is to play in the playoffs."

Encarnacion doesn't plan to participate in the home run derby, even if asked, due to lingering pain in his hamstring.

Cecil, 27, had legitimate reason to doubt whether he'd break spring training as a member of the Blue Jays. During the final week of camp, Cecil was called into general manager Alex Anthopoulos' office and informed he'd pitched well enough to remain in the big leagues.

After clearing that hurdle, Cecil has emerged as one of the premier setup/specialist relievers in baseball. In 44 innings (38 appearances,) he has a 1.43 ERA, has allowed only 23 hits and has struck out 50.

Earlier this season, Cecil set a franchise record by facing 43-consecutive batters without allowing a hit.

"I want to start out by saying that every guy in that bullpen down there deserves to be on that team," said Cecil. "I can't say enough about those guys. They've done a heck of a job the whole season and I'm not kidding, every single one of them deserves to be in my place. But I'm sure glad to be representing the Blue Jays and our bullpen down in New York City and hopefully I can represent them well."

Since his breakout season when he won 15 games as a starter in 2010, Cecil has struggled to find a niche. After going 4-11 in 2011 and experiencing a confounding drop in velocity, Cecil began 2012 in the minor leagues.

This season, Cecil has recovered his velocity and mixes his fastball with a knee-buckling curveball, a pitch which has proven effective against both right-handed and left-handed hitters.

Meantime, reliever Steve Delabar, who turns 30 on July 17, is one of five finalists for the final American League roster spot. He's competing with four other relievers, including the Tigers' Joaquin Benoit, Tanner Scheppers of Texas, the Red Sox' Koji Uehara and New York's David Robertson.

Fan online balloting determines the winner.

Blue Jays' manager John Gibbons will serve as a coach on American League skipper Jim Leyland's (Detroit) staff.

The 84th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday, July 16 at Citi Field in Queens, New York, the home of the New York Mets.

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