BOSTON -- For the second consecutive year, three Orioles players have been voted by the fans to start in the All-Star Game.
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz and center fielder Adam Jones will start for the American League in this year’s Midsummer Classic on July 15 at Target Field in Minneapolis. Catcher Matt Wieters also was picked to start, but he is out for the season after having Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery last month.
The Orioles are the only team in the major leagues to have three players voted to start this year’s All-Star Game. The Milwaukee Brewers had two players — third baseman Aramis Ramirez and outfielder Carlos Gomez — picked to start.
For Cruz and Wieters, this is the first time they’ve been voted to start. Jones, first baseman Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy were selected as starters last year.
“It says something about our fans,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “They’re doing their part. They did a good job supporting our guys, but you don’t get this without national support. It’s tough to keep guys like this under the radar because they’re too good. It’s not that we’re trying to. We like the fact that other people around the country are getting something that we already knew.”
Cruz, who was signed in February to a one-year, $8 million deal following a 50-game suspension last year as part of the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drugs scandal, will make his third All-Star Game appearance. He currently is tied for the major league lead with 27 home runs, and he leads the majors with 71 RBIs.
“Any time you get selected by the fans, it’s more special,” Cruz said. “That means they want to see you there. It’s always a blessing when you’re an All-Star. Like I said before, I’m happy where I am, and I know that I made the right decision to be a part of this team.”
The team’s signing of Cruz to a below-market deal has paid huge dividends on the field, and now he will represent the Orioles in the All-Star Game.
“I’d like to say how smart we are, and we knew the market and all that stuff, but let’s face it, it kind of fell in there a little bit,” Showalter said. “Nelson’s been solid. He’s been a good teammate. He’s taken everything that’s come his way with a lot of class, some things that we put up with out here, a lot of stuff out of the stands, what have you. I think it’s a nice reward for him.”
Jones, who will start for the second straight year and make his third consecutive All-Star Game appearance, enjoyed a late surge in the fan voting, jumping from fifth among outfielders to earn the third and final starting outfield spot. He passed the Oakland Athletics’ Yoenis Cespedes and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Melky Cabrera in the final days of voting. Jones, who is hitting .310 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs, edged Cespedes by 73,000 votes.
“To start, it comes down to voting,” said Jones, who will play in his fourth All-Star Game. “First, you’ve got to do it on the field. If I’m not hitting, if I’m not playing good, then they’re not going to vote. I think the timing of it was good, playing good baseball and the voting. … At the end of the day, Baltimore, Birdland, fans across baseball, you want [to show] respect, a debt of gratitude. They took to the computers, whoever they vote, and they voted me in.”
Showalter said he surprised Jones when he called him into his office to tell him he was picked by the fans.
“That’s pretty cool,” Showalter said. “I don’t get a chance to surprise Adam too often, but I got him a little bit. I started off by telling him the time in Atlanta when I had to tell him he hadn’t made it. I can’t keep a straight face with him. That’s cool.”
Even though he only played in 26 games and has been on the disabled list since early May, Wieters led AL catchers from the first release of fan balloting results to the end.
“Every Monday when it came out, we'd check it out,” Wieters said. “When you know what kind of fans the Orioles have, you can see how it can happen. When you have a fanbase that's as loyal to the team as any other, it speaks a lot for them more than anything else, to be able to get multiple guys in it and get a player who only played for a month in the All-Star Game.”
Wieters, who made his third AL All-Star team, batted .308 with five homers and 18 RBIs before he was injured. He edged Oakland’s Derek Norris by less than 12,000 votes. Wieters said he will attend the game even though he can’t participate. He will be replaced by Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez as the starter in the game.
“I think when the fans vote you in, it's your duty to go,” Wieters said. “It's a fun event, it's a great event. MLB does a great job of putting it on, and I'm able to go and support other teammates — which is always fun, to watch your own guys play in that game. And there's no better seat than in the dugout.”
Showalter said he was disappointed that outfielder Nick Markakis wasn’t selected. Markakis has never been selected for an All-Star Game in his nine-year career and finished seventh among AL outfielders in fan voting. Showalter said Hardy, who finished third among AL shortstops, also deserved consideration.
“But he’s an All-Star with his teammates, fans,” Showalter said of Markakis. “I just hope we all appreciate what we’re getting a chance to be a part of every day and watch. He’s just consistent.”
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