MILWAUKEE -- Josh Bell is an All-Star ... but Felipe Vazquez isn't?
The reserves and pitchers for the National League roster for the July 9 All-Star Game in Cleveland were announced late Sunday afternoon, shortly after the Pirates' 2-1 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park, and Bell was formally named -- weeks after he'd been asked to participate in the Home Run Derby -- but the team's superlative closer wasn't.
The full roster:
The NL All-Star roster is loaded. pic.twitter.com/z6WNi7uF6x
— MLB (@MLB) June 30, 2019
Vazquez, an All-Star in 2018, has converted 19 of 20 save opportunities -- plus a two-inning win here Friday -- with a 1.80 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, a .205 opponents' batting average, and 55 strikeouts against nine walks in 35 innings.
“It’s just a bummer,” Steven Brault said of Vazquez not being selected. “He totally deserves it. He’s been just shutdown this year. It’s tough because the National League has a lot of good relievers this year, so it’s hard to kind of say he absolutely should be in. We know he’s an All-Star, though. He’s our guy. He’s our All-Star.”
Clint Hurdle advised Vazquez to a keep a bag packed for a potential trip to Cleveland in the event he is named as an injury replacement.
“There’s a week to go,” Hurdle said. “There’s a lot of things that happen in the last week before the game.”
Bell's selection certainly wasn't surprising as he has had one of the best offensive seasons of any player in the NL. However, that did not detract from the happiness of Bell's teammates.
“It’s fantastic news,” Hurdle said. “I’m very proud of him. He’s earned it. He’s very deserving.”
Even though they took a tough one-run loss, the Pirates made time to celebrate Bell’s honor once they got back to the clubhouse after the game.
The Pirates announced earlier in the day that Bell will participate in the Home Run Derby, following a tease last week:
— Pirates (@Pirates) June 30, 2019
Besides that tweet last week from hitting coach Jacob Cruz, this video surfaced Saturday after the Brewers' 3-1 win against the Pirates, where Bell and Christian Yelich, the major-league home run leader, could be heard discussing the Derby. Yelich was wearing a microphone as part of Fox's national broadcast:
— Greg Brown (@gbrowniepoints) June 30, 2019
Yelich, who has 29 home runs, is also confirmed for the July 8 showcase in Cleveland.
This season, Bell is slashing .301/.376/.625 with a 1.001 OPS. He leads the big leagues with 70 RBIs and 29 doubles and has sprinkled in 22 home runs. He was also named the NL Player of the Month in May. Despite cooling off a touch in June, Bell made a strong and deserving push for a starting position in this year's All-Star Game.
Bell was edged out by the Braves' Freddie Freeman as the NL's starting first baseman for the July 9 All-Star Game, although he could still start as the NL's designated hitter. That decision is up to manager Dave Roberts of the Dodgers.
Currently confirmed to be joining Bell and Yelich for the derby are Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, Carlos Santana and Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr.
Bell couldn’t resist when Major League Baseball asked him to take part in the derby.
“I know it might be the opportunity of a lifetime,” Bell said.
Whether the 26-year-old first baseman becomes a fixture in the event remains to be seen. However, one certainty is that he will line up with seven other sluggers on July 8 at Progressive Field in Cleveland for an event he has always loved watching on television.
“They’re a lot of fun,” Bell said. “They’re can’t-miss baseball.”
Bell said he has participated in only one other derby. That was at the Florida State League All-Star Game in 2014 when he was playing for high Class A Bradenton and the event was at LECOM Park, spring training home of the Pirates.
Some players, notably Angels center fielder Mike Trout, shy away from participating in the derby because they feel trying to hit home runs can affect their swings after regular season play resume. Bell, though, has no worries about that.
“I don’t think people realize how many swings we take in batting practice before games,” Bell said.
Class AAA Indianapolis assistant hitting coach Jonathan Schwind, who was a catcher in the Pirates’ farm system from 2011-17, will pitch to Bell.
“He was stoked when I asked him,” Bell said. “It’s something we talked about in the spring and it kind of worked out.”
Projecting Bell as a derby participant would have been farfetched in spring training. He was coming off a 2018 season in which he hit just 12 home runs after going deep 26 times as a rookie the previous year.
Yet Bell will be in the spotlight on July 8.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” he said. “Cleveland is an awesome ballpark and hopefully I can put on a show there.”
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