Before Sunday, the Nationals never had more than two players selected to the major league All-Star Game. Now, they may even have four players go to the July 10 game in Kansas City, with rookie Bryce Harper on the five-man ballot for the final NL spot decided by online fan votes.
“Times are changing around here,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, an all-star in 2009. “Before, we had one guy a year because we had to.”
Desmond, a first-time all-star, has emerged as one of the most complete shortstops in the league, enjoying a career season at the plate. Strasburg, also selected for the first time, regained his pre-injury form, and became an elite starting pitcher. Gonzalez continued his development as a top starter, earning his second straight all-star bid. Harper, in his limited time, has become one of the most exciting players in the game.
“It means that we’re winning,” Strasburg said. “Typically the team in last place only gets one guy.”
The selection marks a full circle return for Strasburg, 23. After being selected first overall by the Nationals in 2009 as one of the generation’s best pitching prospects, Strasburg’s dazzling start with the Nationals in 2010 was cut short by an elbow injury. The subsequent Tommy John surgery and rehabilitation knocked him out for more than a year, and he made only a handful of starts last season.
This season, Strasburg has been among the game’s best. He leads the majors with 122 strikeouts and sports a 2.81 ERA, and opponents are hitting only .217 against him. Despite an innings limit this season, the Nationals have said Strasburg will be allowed to pitch in the All-Star Game if his schedule lines up.
“It’s amazing to think where I was a year ago,” Strasburg said. “It’s great to see that all the hard work has all paid off.”
Gonzalez, 26, has been a valuable addition atop the starting rotation and among the game’s best left-handed starters. The Nationals traded for Gonzalez last December, sending four of their best prospects to the Oakland Athletics for their all-star. He has struck out 112 batters and held hitters to a .195 batting average. His fastball and knee-buckling curveball have propelled him to an 11-3 record and a 3.01 ERA.
Strasburg and Gonzalez have been a major reason for the Nationals’ success this season and the backbone of the majors’ best pitching staff. In games started by either pitcher, the team has a 25-7 record. Both were selected by player ballot and finished third and fourth, respectively, among NL starters.