What to watch for in tonight’s All-Star Game

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Tonight’s 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will officially open with Detroit’s Justin Verlander throwing to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez. Still, my favorite part will take place before that. The Midsummer Classic isn’t the must-see event it was before Baseball Tonight, MLB Extra Innings and MLB.tv made seeing the league’s stars in action so much easier. But I don’t think anything beats seeing the 60-some-odd players line up on the field before the game in their array of uniforms, smiling and waving to the crowd. It’s old hat for some, but for the rookies and the first-time veterans in the midst of career years, it’s a standout moment.

Of course, what happens after they say “play ball” should be interesting to. Here’s what to watch for…

– The much-anticipated All-Star debuts of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

Harper was a late selection, only getting on to the NL team because a couple of outfielders had to drop out. Even then, one can argue he’s not really worthy based on his performance this year. I say “so what?” Harper is the next big thing, and he’s plenty good already. Who wouldn’t want to see him come up to the plate in the ninth inning tonight? At 19, he’s the youngest position player in All-Star Game history. He’s actually younger than all but one of the players to take part in Sunday’s Futures Game (the Rangers’ Jurickson Profar was the younger player, in case you’re wondering).

As for Trout, well, there was no doubt he was going to be picked for the AL roster. The 20-year-old isn’t only the AL Rookie of the Year favorite, but he’s right in the MVP mix with his .341/.397/.562 line and league-leading 26 steals to date. A rare combination of speed and power, he rates as the most exciting player in the league right now.

– Chipper Jones’s final All-Star appearance

With a .318/.396/.580 line in 173 at-bats, Atlanta’s elder statesman is putting together a nice last hurrah after announcing his retirement this spring. Barring a playoff run by the Braves, this will be the future Hall of Famer’s last time on the national stage. It will be interesting to see how manager Tony La Russa works him in given that he has four third basemen on the roster (Chipper, starter Pablo Sandoval, David Wright and David Freese). The plan will probably be to have him pinch-hit.

– R.A. Dickey’s darting knuckler and Carlos Ruiz’s attempt to catch it.

Not to mention that AL team’s attempts to hit it.

Dickey deserved to start for the NL squad, but since Buster Posey has never caught a knuckler and the Giants really didn’t want him trying it for the first time tonight, Matt Cain will get the ball instead. The plan is for Dickey and Ruiz to enter the game at the same time, as the Philadelphia catcher was more up for the challenge. Dickey throws a much harder knuckler than what we’ve come to expect from Tim Wakefield and others, and it’s helped him rack up 123 strikeouts, good for second in the NL.

– Four first-time All-Stars in the starting lineup

Here’s the full list of first-time All-Stars

American League
C Mike Napoli (Tex) – starter
OF Mike Trout (LAA) – rookie
OF Mark Trumbo (LAA)
DH Billy Butler (KC)
RP Ryan Cook (Oak) – rookie
SP Yu Darvish (Tex) – rookie
SP Matt Harrison (Tex)
RP Jim Johnson (Bal)
RP Fernando Rodney (TB)
SP Chris Sale (CWS)

National League
C Buster Posey (SF) – starter
OF Melky Cabrera (SF) – starter
DH Carlos Gonzalez (Col) – starter
C Carlos Ruiz (Phi)
1B Bryan LaHair (CHC)
2B Jose Altuve (Hou)
3B David Freese (StL)
SS Ian Desmond (Was) – injured, won’t participate
OF Bryce Harper (Was) – rookie
OF Giancarlo Stanton (Mia) – injured, won’t participate
RP Aroldis Chapman (Cin)
SP R.A. Dickey (NYM)
SP Lance Lynn (StL)
SP Wade Miley (Ari) – rookie
SP Stephen Strasburg (Was)
SP Huston Street (SD)

As for your veteran All-Stars, well, Derek Jeter laps the field there. This is his 13th nod. Next are David Ortiz and Jones with eight apiece.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.