ST. PETERSBURG - Ben Zobrist is headed back to the All-Star Game. Surprised? He was.
“I was shocked,” Zobrist said when he learned before Saturday’s game against the White Sox that he was selected as a reserve to the American League squad for the July 16 game at Citi Field in New York.
Zobrist joins head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield as the Rays’ representatives, though that could change with an injury this week to anyone on the team.
“It’s a huge honor,” Zobrist said. “I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily played the way I’m capable of playing up to this point, but obviously I still feel like I can help the club win. And hopefully if we win that game, we could possibly make it to the World Series, and that would give us homefield advantage. It’s an important game still. I look forward to being there and seeing what I can do.”
Zobrist, who snapped an 0-for-16 slump Saturday with a first-inning single, is listed on the All-Star roster as a utility player, the role he fulfilled in 2009 when Rays manager Joe Maddon, the AL’s All-Star Game manager, selected Zobrist.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who manages the AL squad this year, picked Zobrist for the same role.
“I just assume it will be similar to some of the things that I do here, only this way it will be coming into the game late in the game if I get an opportunity, and maybe possibly playing a position I haven’t played recently,” Zobrist said. “I’ll just have to kind of be flexible and be willing to do whatever they ask me to do.”
How’s this for irony? Zobrist was the Ray who was hit by a pitch from Detroit’s Rickey Porcello on June 30 after Leyland publicly stated someone would pay for Fernando Rodney pitching up and in to Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera the night before.
Yet Leyland, charged with picking three reserve position players, used one pick on Zobrist.
“I love the selection from the perspective that a complete game matters, it’s not just about batting average,” Maddon said. “Ben personifies the complete baseball player and has done so year in and year out. It’s great to see him recognized for it.”
Leyland could have selected Evan Longoria. But Cabrera, voted to start by the fans, will likely play deep into the game. The American League players voted Baltimore’s Manny Machado as the backup third baseman. So Leyland decided on Zobrist to give him more options off the bench late in the game.
Matt Moore took an 11-3 record and a 3.65 ERA into Saturday’s start against the White Sox, but he was passed over by the players and Leyland.
Zobrist entered Saturday’s game with a .260 average, five home runs and 44 RBIs. As a second baseman, Zobrist was hitting .281 with a .383 on-base percentage and a .409 slugging percentage.
Zobrist said he had planned to spend the All-Star break in Nashville, relaxing with his family and friends. Now he’s headed to New York.
“This will be a fun little trip,” he said. “I really am shocked and excited for the opportunity.”
Zobrist joins Cleveland's Jason Kipnis and Boston's Dustin Pedroia as the reserve second basemen behind starter Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees. Zobrist also gives Leyland several position options off the bench.