SAN DIEGO — A team that doesn’t stand out in the standings and lacks a heavyweight who stands above his peers in any significant category this season had its most reliable player rewarded Sunday for his all-around game.
Paul DeJong’s steadiness made him an All-Star.
The Cardinals’ shortstop learned Sunday morning that he will be the team’s lone representative in Cleveland for the 90th Midsummer Classic, on July 9. DeJong was selected for his first All-Star Game by the commissioner’s office as part of the process to assure each of the 30 teams has at least one player chosen. Manager Mike Shildt revealed the invitation to DeJong’s teammates during the daily “Ball Talk” session in the clubhouse, and applause erupted through the room.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work,” DeJong said after the Cardinals’ 5-3 victory Sunday at Petco Park. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity to represent this team, this organization, and hopefully this is the first of many. I hold myself to a high standard so I want to make sure this a regular thing for me.”
A staple of the Cardinals’ long run of success in the standings and appearances in October was support every summer for the All-Star Game. Such enthusiasm has been flagging.
For the second consecutive year the Cardinals had to have a player selected by the commissioner’s office. A total of 24 players were elected as starters by fans or chosen by the players and coaches, and only two National League teams did not have a player emerge from those votes: the Cardinals and the lowly Marlins. The two players selected to satisfy the every-team quota were DeJong and Marlins’ starter Sandy Alcantara, a former Cardinals farmhand who was traded for Marcell Ozuna in December 2017.
The Cardinals had hoped that Ozuna and reliever John Gant would get support as All-Star nods. Ozuna was a leading candidate before suffering fractured fingers on his right hand Friday, and had expressed an interest in competing in the Home Run Derby.
Shildt and reliever Andrew Miller were discussing the team’s All-Star candidates early Sunday and illustrating how it’s usually the brawny numbers that get selected — the home run leaders (such as Christian Yelich), the pop-star infielders (such as Javy Baez), and often players with 20 homers and 60 RBIs at this point such as Ozuna.
DeJong’s game is more well-rounded than lopsided.
“To Paul, playing a premium position as well as he’s played it and being in the middle of our lineup — his all-around game, I thought, would have been a factor,” Shildt said. “A deserving All-Star.”
DeJong, 25, has hit .260 this season with a .345 on-base percentage and a .458 slugging percentage His 13 homers rank in the top five at his position, as does his .803 OPS. DeJong’s 53 runs lead the Cardinals and rank fourth at his position in the National League. DeJong also has been one of the league leaders in wins above replacement because of his blend of production at the plate, durability and agility in the field. DeJong’s plus-5 defensive runs saved rank fifth among all shortstops in the majors, according to Baseball Info Solutions.
He has started 80 of the Cardinals’ 82 games, all at shortstop.
The last Cardinal to win the fan vote and start an All-Star Game was shortstop Jhonny Peralta, in 2015. DeJong, however, is the third shortstop to represent the Cardinals at the All-Star Game in the past five, following Aledmys Diaz. He was selected as a rookie, in 2016.
DeJong joins Baez, the starter, and Colorado’s Trevor Story as the NL shortstops. Padres wunderkind rookie Fernando Tatis Jr., who has 11 homers and 12 steals so far, was not selected for the All-Star Game, Yet.
“Feel like that’s going to be the first of many for Paul DeJong,” Shildt said. “Let him enjoy this one.”
ILLNESS BENCHES ‘CARP’
The plan going into the weekend series against San Diego, as explained Saturday by Shildt, was to get leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter a three-game “break” and have him return to the lineup Sunday. A stomach bug changed the plan. Carpenter was a scratch from the lineup as he developed a stomach illness Saturday night and spent most of Sunday receiving treatment.
Carpenter did travel with the team, though, to Seattle on Sunday night.
Shildt reiterated that Carpenter’s absence from the lineup is temporary.
“Matt Carpenter is not going to sit over there on the bench,” the manager said. “Matt Carpenter is a player we need to perform for us and will perform for us and needs to be in our lineup to get the opportunity to play.”
Mike Mayers (lat strain) and Ryan Helsley (shoulder impingement) continued their rehab assignments for Class AAA Memphis with an inning each in relief Saturday. Mayers allowed a home run in his one inning of work, and Helsley struck out one, walked one, and allowed a hit in the seventh inning. While Helsley can remain in Memphis once his rehab assignment is complete, Mayers must return to the majors because he is out of minor-league options.
“We’re going to be smart about it,” Shildt said. “That’s a pretty severe injury. He’s recovered really well, and we don’t want to rush it, rush it. His 30-day clock has started so he’ll be with us in (less than) 30 days.”
• Randy Arozarena, leadoff hitter and outfielder for Memphis, had four hits Sunday and elevated his batting average to .370 through 18 games there. The speedy Cuban has three three-hit games and two four-hit games in the last week, and overall this season at Class AA and Class AAA he’s hit .335 with a .960 OPS in 46 games.
• At 22, reliever Junior Fernandez continues to assert himself as the next quick-rising Cardinals pitching prospect. Fernandez has yet to walk a batter in 4 1/3 innings at Memphis, and overall this season the righthander has 59 strikeouts, 19 walks, and a 1.60 ERA in 45 innings, all in relief.