WASHINGTON -- When the Washington Nationals' lone All-Star selection Jordan Zimmermann came down with a cramp in the biceps of his throwing arm Friday night, Major League Baseball was confronted with the very real possibility that it was about to hold an All-Star Game without a single representative from one of the division-leading clubs.
Given the reaction to the perceived snub from Nationals' closer Rafael Soriano -- as good a candidate as anyone to be chosen, with his 0.97 ERA and 22 saves in 24 opportunities -- the reality became even starker. But at the final hour -- late Sunday afternoon -- MLB announced that reliever Tyler Clippard had been added to the team, his second All-Star appearance.
Even Clippard's own All-Star manager, Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny, made a back-handed comment in Monday's news conference, saying there were "a couple Nationals that were not available" that he may have chosen instead.
Before you go thinking that Clippard's selection is strictly a PR move for MLB to save face, though, consider what Clippard has meant to the Nats.
His record of 6-2, along with a save and a 2.03 ERA, are stellar enough. His 11.9 K/9 IP (53 K/40.0 IP) is third-best among all National Leaguers who have thrown as many innings as he has, with the injured Jose Fernandez one of the two above him.
Clippard joined the Nats before the 2008 season and cemented himself as a bullpen fixture after a successful 2009 campaign. But since 2010, he has been by some measures the most important reliever in baseball.
Over the last four and a half seasons, Clippard leads all Major League relief pitchers in innings pitched (363.0) and wins (28). His 5.5 fWAR over that span is 13th-best, and of all relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, his 2.65 ERA ranks 11th, trailing a list of mostly closers, including Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara and Soriano.
Clippard earned an All-Star bid in 2011, but the often-overlooked right-hander was due another recognition for his stalwart, often underappreciated work. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not he'll actually pitch in the game.
Michael Taylor has had a breakout campaign at Double-A Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
To that end, Nationals fans may have already seen their peak All-Star excitement, as über prospect Lucas Giolito and less-heralded outfielder Michael Taylor took the field for the MLB Futures Game on Sunday. While Giolito may yet make a bigger impact on the Major League level, fans should start turning their eyes to Taylor now.
The speedy center fielder was a wiry, light-hitting project when the Nationals drafted him out of Westminster Academy, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2010, and he had a career minor league slash line of just .249/.319/.399 coming into this season. But his defensive range has always been there, and last season he translated that speed to the basepaths, more than doubling his career high in steals by swiping 51 in just 58 attempts at High-A Potomac.
This year, at the true prospect test level of Double-A, the 23-year-old's bat has finally caught up with the rest of his game. He is slashing .323/.404/.540 with 18 home runs and 27 stolen bases in just 88 games heading into the All-Star break. Not bad for a guy whose previous career high was 13 long balls, three years ago.
At this pace, Taylor will be pushing the Nationals to make a decision about the future of center field sooner rather than later. It may even open up their options to move Denard Span, or let him walk this off-season with a just a club option remaining on his contract.
Both Giolito and Taylor are names Nationals fans should know, but the latter ought to have an impact in Washington sooner.
First pitch for the 2014 All-Star Game is at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The game will be televised on FOX.
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