Eight years after his first All-Star Game appearance, Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman will make his second, the latest milestone in a resurgent season in which Zimmerman reclaimed his stardom with emphasis. Zimmerman, it was announced Sunday night, will join teammates Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy in the National League’s starting lineup, which was chosen by a fan vote. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg will also head to Miami for the July 11 exhibition, where Scherzer will be a strong candidate to start the game, something the Nationals are willing to let him do if Cubs Manager Joe Maddon selects him for the honor.
The Nationals’ five all-star selections ties a franchise record and are tied with the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians for most selections for the 2017 All-Star Game.
“We’re here every single day with each other. We go through good things and bad things and we see each other more than we see our families sometimes. We give up a lot, honestly, to do what we do, without complaining about playing professional baseball,” Zimmerman said. ” … To be able to share [the all-star honor] with the guys that you do that with, I think it makes it pretty special.”
Third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose numbers suggest he is one of the top offensive and defensive third basemen in baseball this season, will be a candidate for the annual “Final Vote” competition, in which fans vote one more player onto each league’s team. The other National League candidates are Justin Bour of the Miami Marlins, Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, Mark Reynolds of the Colorado Rockies and Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rendon was also a final vote candidate in 2014 but did not win it. Nolan Arenado, who is one of two major league third basemen whose defensive statistics rank him ahead of Rendon this year, won the vote to start at third base.
That Scherzer and Strasburg made the team meant left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who is sixth among qualified major league starters with a 2.77 ERA, did not. Before this season, Gonzalez told Nationals Manager Dusty Baker that his goal was to make the all-star team, to go play in his home town and honor his late friend Jose Fernandez, the Marlins ace who died in a boat wreck last September. Gonzalez did all he could, turning in what was arguably his best first half since his first season as a National in 2012, the last time he was an all-star.
Gonzalez could still make the team as an injury replacement. Strasburg was named to last year’s team but could not participate because of injury, and Scherzer took his place. For now, Gonzalez will be the National on the outside looking in, though three starters and five, potentially six, representatives qualifies as a haul.
Harper led all players in fan votes from beginning to end and will be making his fourth start and fifth appearance overall. Murphy will make his second career all-star appearance, joining Zimmerman as a first-time starter in an all-Nationals right side of the infield.
Scherzer has been named to five consecutive all-star teams and has now been an all-star in all three of his seasons as a National. Strasburg has now been named three times.
But anyone could have bet on Harper, Murphy, Scherzer and Strasburg as likely all-stars before this season. The sentimental surprise is Zimmerman, who made this selection all but inevitable, though he beat out Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo by a narrow margin to earn his first start.
“Having Zim start for the first time, Murph, I’m very excited for those two guys to get into it,” Harper said. “It just goes to show how good their years have been, and how good our fans are and what our organization does for voting. I’m very happy for those two guys to get in for starts for the first time.”
Zimmerman entered Sunday night’s game second in the National League in batting average (.335), fourth in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.994) and in the midst of the most productive first half of his 13-year career. The 32-year-old was one of the worst statistical hitters in baseball during his injury plagued 2016 season and had not looked anything like the Zimmerman of old since 2013, his decade of stability demolished by a flurry of injuries that left some wondering if he would ever return to the offensive form that earned him his last all-star appearance, which came as a third baseman.
“Completely different spot in life. It’s fun to think about what’s happened since then and what I’ve gone through and what the organization has gone through as well,” Zimmerman said. ” … It’s just a crazy path to get back.”
But months after questions lingered about how the Nationals would handle the premature crumbling of a franchise pillar, Zimmerman swatted them away with vigor. That pillar is back in place, sturdy as ever, and is starting the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.