Bryce Harper smashed barriers and made uncommon occurrences routine since his teens, and the pattern continued Saturday afternoon as a late flood of fans’ votes made Harper the youngest National League starter in the history of the All-Star Game.
Stoic right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will join Harper on the NL squad, making a maiden all-star appearance that validates his ascension to the sport’s elite. Shortstop Ian Desmond received only a snub and a chance to earn his second all-star nod as one of five players on the Final Vote ballot, where he will have to beat out Los Angeles Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig.
Fans punching ballots and refreshing MLB.com elected Harper, 20, to his second all-star game in as many seasons. On Tuesday, the Washington Nationals outfielder trailed Braves left fielder Justin Upton by 15,000 votes for the final starting outfield spot. His popularity and return from the disabled list Monday propelled him to Citi Field, where he will likely start in center field between Carlos Gonzalez and Carlos Beltran.
“I’m very blessed to be part of that,” Harper said. “I’m just very excited. I got to thank the fans of D.C. and Las Vegas and everywhere else that voted for me. I’m very excited to do this.”
Only three position players (Al Kaline, Jerry Walker and Ken Griffey Jr.) younger than Harper have started an All-Star Game, all from the American League. Harper will become the youngest hitter to start since Griffey, who made the lineup in 1990 — two years before Harper was born — at age 20.
Harper will become only the second National to start an All-Star Game and the first since outfielder Alfonso Soriano in 2006. Harper also became the first player to make the All-Star Game twice as a National.
Though Harper’s season has been stalled by injury, he is still hitting .263/.365/.544 with 13 home runs. Harper said his recent bout with left knee bursitis would not prevent him from playing in the July 16 showcase.
“If he didn’t get hurt, he’s setting records right now,” Desmond said.
Four years after he had Tommy John surgery and one year after rotation mates Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez made it, fellow players voted Zimmermann on to the team. He earned his spot by virtue of a league-leading 12 wins and an ERA that rose Saturday afternoon to 2.57.
Zimmermann, 27, has carried the Nationals’ pitching staff all season — the Nationals have gone 15-3 when he started and 30-39 when he did not. Zimmermann ranks fourth in the National League with 126 innings and has thrown three complete games. He has struck out 89 batters while walking only 18, steamrolling lineups with his hard-charging style and an unchanging countenance.
“It’s awesome,” Zimmermann said. “It’s a huge honor to be representing the Nationals. I feel like Stras had a great first half, and he could also be there. I throw the ball. These guys score the runs for me and play the defense.”
Desmond entered Sunday leading qualified NL shortstops in home runs (15), RBI (49), slugging percentage (.506) and extra-base hits (40). Desmond, 27, has made only two fielding errors since April 21 and reeled off a 59-game errorless streak at one point.
“There’s not too many guys better at the position than he is right now,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
Desmond did not appear slighted. “I’ve got a tee time set up for the first day,” he said. “Guess I don’t have to cancel yet.”
Desmond fell victim to a strong crop of NL shortstops, headlined by starter Troy Tulowitzki. Desmond’s 3.0 wins above replacement entering Saturday placed him behind the Padres’ Everth Cabrera (3.5) and Brewers rookie Jean Segura (3.4).
“I’ve said it before: My number one priority is playing for the Washington Nationals and trying to get to the World Series,” Desmond said. “Going to the All-Star Game is obviously a tremendous honor, but playing for the Washington Nationals and wearing a W on my chest means a lot more to me.”
Tulowitzki has been on the disabled list since June 13 with a strained rib muscle. Desmond could take his place, but Tulowitzki may return this week. He told the Denver Post he would play in the All-Star Game as long as he plays for the Rockies first.
That may be Desmond’s best chance. There may be no taller order than beating Puig, the Cuban outfielder who is hitting .407 in his first 31 games.
“It’s not looking too good,” Desmond said. “How many people are on that island?”
Along with Puig, Desmond will vie for the last spot against Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. Desmond was named an all-star last year, but he could not play in the game because of an oblique injury.
Two other Nationals posted first halves worthy of consideration. Closer Rafael Soriano has collected 24 saves, second in the NL, to go with a 2.19 ERA. Strasburg has only four wins, but his 2.24 ERA ranks third in the NL.
More on the Nationals:
Nationals Journal: Detwiler going on DL; Haren coming back Monday
Nationals Journal: Harper to start All-Star Game
Nationals Journal: Zimmerman makes first all-star team
Nationals Journal: Desmond among those in NL final vote
Nationals Journal: Nationals shows interest in Cubs’ Garza
Nationals Journal: Harper talks his way back into lineup