O's Hernandez may catch hard luck for All-Star spot

AL notebook

June 18, 2006|By COMPILED FROM INTERVIEWS AND OTHER NEWSPAPERS' REPORTS.

Every year deserving players are left off the All-Star rosters.

This season, the most glaring omission could happen here.

Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez is possibly on his way to the best season of his career. He's been hitting around .300. He's on pace for more than 20 homers and a career high in RBIs. And he's the overwhelming leader in runners caught stealing.

At the least, he should be an All-Star reserve.

But there's a catch. Really, about five of them in the American League.

There's the Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer, who's leading the majors in hitting, the Cleveland Indians' Victor Martinez, who has similar offensive numbers to Hernandez's, and three respected veterans having strong seasons: the Chicago White Sox's A.J. Pierzynski, New York Yankees' Jorge Posada and Detroit Tigers' Ivan Rodriguez. It's a pretty impressive backstop crop.

Complicating things is the Boston Red Sox's Jason Varitek, who has been subpar offensively by his standards, but is battling Rodriguez for the fan-selected starting spot.

If Varitek wins, it's going to be tough for Hernandez to slide in as a reserve. Mauer, the 23-year-old Twins phenom, should be a lock. Rodriguez, a fan favorite and 12-time All-Star, could get another nod, especially with the Tigers contending.

With Chicago (and AL) manager Ozzie Guillen allowed to pick seven players, Pierzynski is a good bet, especially since his fellow big leaguers likely won't select the gritty Pierzynski, who is not exactly popular in other clubhouses.

Hernandez's best shot, though, comes from his peers, who choose 16 of the reserves (including pitchers).

"He isn't hitting .370, but he is driving in more runs than all those guys," said Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora, who believes Hernandez should be selected.

So which catcher would Mora leave off to add Hernandez? "I'd take them all," Mora joked. "I'd take everybody."

For his part, Hernandez said he wouldn't be fazed if he's home at the break.

"If I don't make it, it is not a big deal for me anymore," said Hernandez, whose lone All-Star appearance was in 2003. "If I get chosen, good. I am happy. And if I don't, I get to spend three days with my two sons and my wife. That's really not a bad thing, either. That's three days of rest."

Contreras to start?

Guillen is leaning toward using White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras to start the All-Star Game for the AL. Guillen, as the manager of the world champion White Sox, gets to bestow the honor. And he's making no apologies if Contreras keeps pitching well.

"I can be criticized," Guillen said. "I don't care. He has the best numbers and plays for the manager."

Time off

The Indians, trying to get shortstop Jhonny Peralta untracked both offensively and defensively, gave him three consecutive days off, counting a scheduled day off, to work on his game. They also had him watch video of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson playing defense.

Quick hit

One of the reasons the hyped Los Angeles Angels have struggled: their defense. No other club has come close in allowing as many unearned runs (44 in their first 65 games).

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