Cumberland Times-News

Local Sports

July 3, 2014

Newcomers from Cuba, Japan make All-Star pitch

— NEW YORK — All-Stars from all over the world are ticketed for the Twin Cities, where hometown favorite Joe Mauer will be conspicuously absent from the lineup.

Still new to the majors, Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig are just a few of the foreign-born players almost certain to get selected for the July 15 showcase in Minnesota. All-Star rosters will be announced Sunday night, and this year’s game at Target Field figures to have a distinctive international flavor.

“I think it tells you something about how hard they’ve worked outside of our game to get to this point,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

“I think it tells you the level of baseball around the world and how good it is and the competition — and how hungry they are, in a sense, to be one of the best. Not just being happy with maybe signing a big deal and saying, that’s enough. They want to continue to play and make a name for themselves. So it’s pretty special what these guys have done.”

Yu Darvish (Japan), Koji Uehara (Japan), Yoenis Cespedes (Cuba) and Julio Teheran (Colombia) also have impressive stats, putting them in position to join familiar stars such as Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela) and Robinson Cano (Dominican Republic) from more common talent pools outside the United States.

And some of these players, such as Tanaka (Japan) and Abreu (Cuba), have only been here for a matter of months.

“It’s not surprising that some of these guys are able to play at such a high level right when they come over here, because they’re just that good,” said Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist, a two-time All-Star.

“You think of a rookie generally as a young kid that is getting his first experience on a very tough stage, and these guys have already played on high international stages — even if it wasn’t the major leagues. And they’re very polished players.”

Derek Jeter is on track for one last trip in his final season; the Yankees captain led American League shortstops in fan balloting when the latest update was released this week.

But one big name now sure to be missing is Mauer, the three-time batting champion from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Tabbed as an All-Star ambassador to help Major League Baseball promote the game, Mauer was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with a strained muscle on his right side. And while it’s an unfortunate injury for the Twins, it does save MLB and American League manager John Farrell from the Boston Red Sox the trouble of dealing with a delicate situation.

Despite a recent hitting streak, Mauer is having his worst season at the plate. And since he moved from catcher to first base this year to protect his health, he now plays the same position as several of the AL’s best hitters.

To put him on the roster only because the game is in Minneapolis would have been awkward — and it would have cost some other deserving player a spot.

However, it also would have felt strange for the $184 million face of the Twins to be left out of the festivities. Especially for Minnesota fans.

Mauer’s injury eliminates all that. The six-time All-Star and 2009 AL MVP can play some sort of role in the pregame ceremonies and soak in a well-earned ovation without it feeling forced.

“It’s tough to describe,” Mauer said. “I definitely wanted to be a part of this as a player, but I guess that’s out of the question now.”

Other choices remain difficult, even for fans and players who vote.

Cabrera or Abreu at first base for the American League? Adam Wainwright or Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the NL? And all five members of the Dodgers rotation have their own worthy credentials.

“I’m looking forward to being a part of the game, but I’m not necessarily looking forward to the fact there’s going to be some guys left out that have had All-Star-caliber seasons,” said St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny, who will manage the NL team and help choose his reserves. “You just look especially at the starting pitching, it’s just one guy right after another with very similar numbers.”

There are 34 spots on each roster, and at least 13 go to pitchers.

Plus, every club must be represented. So it certainly gets complicated.

“I don’t anticipate making everyone happy,” Farrell said.

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