Pitching aces David Price and Ubaldo Jimenez to start in MLB all-star game

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- The parade of pitchers who will take the mound for the National League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game will begin with the first pitcher in a decade to reach the all-star break with 15 wins. Next could be a guy with a 1.70 ERA, followed by a guy with seven complete games and a perfect game in the first half, followed by the reigning Cy Young winner and league leader in strikeouts.

The National League has not won an all-star game since 1996, but never in the years since has it owned a pitching staff quite like this one. And if the Senior Circuit is to end its 13-season run of futility -- and earn home-field advantage in the World Series for its champion this fall -- it likely will be won on the backs of its pitchers, beginning with Colorado's Ubaldo Jiménez, and likely continuing, in some order, with Florida's Josh Johnson, Philadelphia's Roy Halladay and San Francisco's Tim Lincecum.

"Obviously, I'm not real excited about" facing them, said New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who is playing in his 13th all-star game. "They definitely have some tremendous pitching. It's the best pitching I've seen them have in all my years."

This has been the year of the pitcher in baseball, with the games and the headlines dominated by the men on the mound. Across both leagues, 18 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title reached the break with a mark below 3.00--compared with 11 all of last season, and only one as recently as 2007. The aggregate NL ERA of 4.10 is the lowest since 1992, while the AL mark of 4.21 is the lowest since 1991.

The first half of the season witnessed four no-hitters, including two perfect games (and that's not counting the one by Detroit's Armando Galarraga that was wiped out by an infamous umpire's call). It saw 46-year-old Jamie Moyer become the oldest pitcher in history to throw a shutout, and it saw 21-year-old Stephen Strasburg become the first pitcher in history to strike out at least 14 batters without a single walk in his major league debut.

Above all, it has been the year of young aces, from Jiménez to Johnson to Lincecum in the National League, to Tampa Bay's David Price,, Boston's Jon Lester and New York's Phil Hughes in the American League. All are represented on the league's respective rosters Tuesday night, with Price earning the starting nod in the American League.

"I think it's incredible," said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who will manage the American League squad. "You see so many young kids that are pitching at such a high level. . . . I think it's the time of the pitcher right now. It seemed like 15 years ago, it was a time of young shortstops, and other times, it seems there's an influx of great, young talent in outfielders. But right now, the influx of young pitching in baseball is incredible."

The outcome of the all-star game tends to reflect its era. In 1998, the year Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged their storied, steroids-fueled home run race, the midsummer classic (at Denver's Coors Field) was a 13-8 slugfest -- won of course, by the American League. From 1998 to 2005 (the year before baseball began penalizing first-time steroids users), the all-star game saw an average of 11.5 runs per game. Since then, the teams have averaged just seven runs per game.

"I think it's just one of those crazy things in baseball that happens," said Florida's Johnson, who this season posted eight consecutive starts in which he allowed one earned run or less. "You can't explain it. But it's good to hear about the pitching for a change. It's been more about home runs for the last 10 years."

Why has the game's balance of power shifted to pitching? The most obvious answer is the increasingly stringent drug-testing policy. However, as many observers quickly point out, pitchers used the same drugs as hitters did during the so-called Steroids Era. Another explanation is that young pitchers today get better training as amateurs and as minor leaguers, and thus arrive in the majors as nearly finished products.

"The command and how to pitch -- these guys, they are definitely taught more and they can handle situations better," said NL Manager Charlie Manuel of the Philadelphia Phillies. "And I think that you're going to see that in the near future, [they] just keep getting better."

Added New York's Hughes: "I think it's something we haven't seen a lot of in the past. A lot of guys in the past, when they were kids growing up they wanted to be hitters. Now I think it's cool to be pitchers."

The influx of young pitching has caused a wave of turnover on the all-star rosters. Of the 16 pitchers on the National League roster (including injured ones who won't participate), seven are first-time all-stars, including Washington Nationals closer Matt Capps. On the American League side, 10 of the 18 pitchers are first-timers.

"There are a lot of new faces here," said Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander. "It's a cyclical game, and this is a wave of young pitching. And it's nice to see the guys coming up and being represented."

This would be the perfect year, in other words, for a 1-0 all-star game -- something the game hasn't seen since 1968. That was the year Bob Gibson posted his 1.12 ERA and Denny McLain won 31 games, and the writers dubbed the whole thing the Year of the Pitcher.

This year, the year of the pitcher is still lowercase. But there is still a long ways to go.

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