Courtesy of StepOutside.org

Bell exits Derby early but embraces experience

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Josh Bell takes a swing during the All-Star Home Run Derby on Monday night in Cleveland. - AP

CLEVELAND – Josh Bell is going to start in the All-Star Game after all. He could only hope it goes better than his appearance in the Home Run Derby.

The switch-hitting slugger will be the designated hitter for the National League on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. The Pirates' first baseman will bat sixth in the order.

Bell lost out on a starting spot at first base in the showcase event to the Braves' Freddie Freeman in fan voting. However, NL manager Dave Roberts of the Dodgers chose Bell to be the DH.

“The switch bat, I think, is a great thing,” Roberts said of his decision to start Bell. “Each guy has their own story, but I think his performance ... I like that presence in the middle of the lineup.”

On Monday night, Bell lost to Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., 25-18, in the first round of the Derby. The Pirates have yet to have a player advance past the initial round, a group of Barry Bonds, Jason Bay, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.

However, an early exit could not spoil Bell's night as he is experiencing his first All-Star Game.

"It was incredible," he said with a smile. "When you put up (25) like Acuna did, I knew I had some work to do. Maybe next year I'll do better if I get invited. It was great, though. It's just something I'll never forget."

Making the event special in Bell's eyes was that his Pirates teammate Felipe Vazquez, who is also on the NL squad, was cheering him on. Former Pirates teammates Gerrit Cole and Austin Meadows, who are on the American League team, also congratulated Bell once his matchup concluded.

"I know Vazqy has been here before and he gave me some good advice," he said. "He told me to slow down and use the short porch to your advantages."

Bell's parents also made the trip from Arlington, Texas. Bell admitted it was an emotional moment when he spotted them in the stands.

"I kept looking back at my parents and they were smiling and looking so proud," he said. "I'm sure they expected a tad more, but maybe I'll make a better showing next time."

He talked more about the experience:

Here are all 18 of Bell's home runs Monday night:

In 2019, Bell is slashing .302/.376/.648 with a 1.024 OPS to go alongside 27 home runs and 84 RBIs. Those 84 RBIs lead the major leagues, as do his 30 doubles. His 60 extra-base hits at the All-Star break are the most in NL history.

Bell was happy to get the news he will be in the lineup, earning a start in his first All-Star appearance.

"I was hoping it might happen,” he said. “It just adds to everything, adds to the excitement of being at my first All-Star Game.”

Prior to the Derby, Bell admitted he was more exciting about participating in that event than the game.

"It's what I've dreamed about since I kid," he said. "I'm really excited about it. I never really watched the game itself when I was a kid; I'd just go out and play. But I always watched the derby. I'm looking forward to going up against these guys. I've seen them pretty much on SportsCenter every night. So it's nice to see, up close and personal, what these guys got."

Bell has been one of the top players in the major leagues this season and Brewers right-hander Brandon Woodruff, also a member of the NL squad, understands why.

“He’s so tough to pitch because he can hit any pitch,” Woodruff told me Monday during All-Star media day. “It’s not like some hitters where maybe you can consistently get him out on a breaking ball or a changeup or a high fastball. He hits everything, even when you go outside the (strike) zone and put a ball in a place where ... he won’t be able to hit it, he still hits it.”

I asked Vazquez how he would pitch to Bell. He just laughed.

“I don’t know,” he said. “He really doesn’t have any weaknesses right now. He’s on everything.”

Vazquez, always having fun, played reporter with Bell a little later:

The full NL starting lineup:

  1. Christian Yelich - LF
  2. Javier Baez - SS
  3. Freddie Freeman - 1B
  4. Cody Bellinger - RF
  5. Nolan Arenado - 3B
  6. Josh Bell - DH
  7. Willson Contreras - C
  8. Ketel Marte - 2B
  9. Ronald Acuna Jr. - CF

Hyun-Jin Ryu will be the starting pitcher.

Meanwhile, Vazquez said he will be available to pitch in relief despite getting a four-out save against the Brewers on Sunday at PNC Park.

"I feel great," Vazquez said. "The first thing I said to Dave Roberts when he shook my hand was that I could pitch. I definitely want to pitch. You don't want to come to the All-Star Game and not get a chance to pitch. That would be a bummer."

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