Back in May, sitting at his locker at Nationals Park, Tyler Clippard considered his prospects for making the all-star game and quickly dismissed them. He was a set-up reliever, and he knew how rarely they make baseball’s annual showcase. Even if he had been one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball, Clippard gave himself little chance. “As a reliever, it’s kind of the save that you get a lot of attention for,” he said then. “It’s not really in the cards, I don’t think.”
Sunday, Clippard learned he had become the Nationals’ lone selection for the 2011 All-Star Game, which will be held July 12 in Arizona. Clippard might be joined by first baseman Michael Morse, who is one five choices in the Final Player vote, chosen in an online vote by fans.
Even Sunday, when the Nationals gathered for a pregame meeting, Clippard — who has a 1.96 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 46 innings while holding opponents to a .162 batting average — had not thought much about making the all-star team. When General Manager Mike Rizzo announced the decision, Clippard was stunned.
“Pretty shocking,” he said. Pretty awesome.” There’s too many guys, especially in the National League — starters, great closers. I’m pitching well, but usually those are the guys that get the nod as far as the all-star game is concerned. I knew there was maybe an outside shot, but I didn’t really take it seriously. That’s probably a good thing, not really thinking about it too much. Now that it’s here and it’s actually happening, it’s pretty awesome.”
Clippard, 26, began his career as a starter with the New York Yankees and came to the Nationals in December 2007 in a trade for right-handed reliever Jonathan Albaladejo. The Nationals made a Clippard a reliever before the 2009 season, a change he resisted at first. Since then, Clippard has become a late-inning, strikeout machine — pposing hitters have missed 33.5 percent of their swings against Clippard since 2010.
“It’s tough to put into words because of the process it’s taken to get to this point in my career,” Clippard said. “The hard work, all the people around me that helped me out. It’s still early on in my career, and I have a lot more goals that I want to accomplish. But this is a cool little one to have.”
Clippard was one of five relievers to make the National League team, and he and Atlanta’s Jonny Venters were the only non-closers on the team.
Morse will have a chance to make to the team, an unlikely prospect at the start of May, when he had lost his starting left field position to Laynce Nix. Since May 22, the day he took over the Nationals’ full-time first baseman in the wake of Adam LaRoche’s shoulder injury, Morse has the most home runs (13) and the seventh-highest slugging percentage (.656) in the National League.
Morse is up against Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy, Philles center fielder Shane Victorino, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier and Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.
“It’s been a long road, but I’m very happy and very fortunate to have this moment to be a finalist with four other guys,” Morse said. “Vote often, vote a lot. I’m excited. I want to get there.”
Unless Morse makes it, the Nationals will keep alive a five-year streak in which they have placed only player in the all-star game. The best case for a snub is rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa, who while playing standout defense leads all National League second basemen in home runs (15) and slugging percentage (.466). His .794 OPS ranks second, only to Rickie Weeks. Espinosa has been worth 3.1 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.com, also second among NL second basemen. Weeks and Brandon Phillips made the team.