Paul Hagen | Here are stars who deserve acclaim

Posted: June 29, 2007

WITH ALL THE appropriate confetti and kazoos, the rosters for this year's All-Star Game will be unveiled on Sunday. And we promise not to quibble, recognizing that there will always be disagreements over the selection process.

Still, there are a lot of good players who tend to be overlooked for one reason or another. So here's a look at some All (Overlooked) Stars, with all stats as they were going into play yesterday:

The Orioles claimed righthander Jeremy Guthrie on waivers from the Indians. Since going into the rotation for good on May 8, he's 3-0 in 10 starts with a 1.73 ERA. "We could never have predicted the level that he's pitched at," marveled vice president, baseball operations Jim Duquette.

Rockies leftfielder Matt Holliday says the only time he has seen his face on a billboard was last spring in Tucson, Ariz. "It was cool. All my family was taking pictures of it," he said. Seems like Colorado would want to do more to promote a guy who was batting .349 with 60 RBI.

Clues: Hunter Pence plays centerfield. He's a rookie. He's hitting .344 with eight homers and 35 RBI. Question: Who does he play for? Time's up. Answer: The Astros. Don't feel bad. Most people outside Houston didn't know, either.

There are a lot of good shortstops in baseball. And Tampa Bay's Brendan Harris is one of them. After being acquired as almost an afterthought from the Reds and making the team as a utility infielder out of spring training, he's hitting .318 with eight homers and 33 RBI.

Twins setup reliever Pat Neshek has a 1.18 ERA and has allowed 15 hits in 38 innings over 37 games. Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima is off to a .307-8-32 start. Cardinals second baseman Aaron Miles is batting .307.

And finally: Who trails only Alex Rodriguez in home runs since May 13?

Why, that would be Blue Jays veteran Matt Stairs with 12. Who else?

Congratulations, everyone. And enjoy your time off during the break.

The hot corner

-- There are reports that the White Sox have had a change of heart and are close to signing potential free-agent lefthander Mark Buehrle. There are others who think the Sox are just engaging in some face-saving and will soon trade Buehrle, portraying him as a player who just wanted too much money. If Buehrle (or another starter such as Jose Contreras) is moved, that spot in the rotation will be filled by former Phillies No. 1 draft choice Gavin Floyd. After getting off to a slow start at Triple A Charlotte, he's 5-0, 2.16 in his last seven outings.

-- Teams interested in trading with the Yankees have been scouting righthanders Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy at Double A Trenton.

Around the bases

-- Brewers manager Ned Yost was talking Tuesday about how having a retractable roof at Miller Park was a reason for the team's 30-13 home record, since weather never forces them to vary their routine. Sure enough, the next night a sudden downpour soaked half the field before the roof could be closed and batting practice was abruptly halted.

-- Rockies designated hitter Jeff Baker was puzzled when asked if he felt bad about breaking up a no-hit bid by Toronto's Dustin McGowan in the ninth on Sunday. "I waited for someone to laugh, but nobody did," he sad. "So I said, 'Did he feel bad for getting everybody out?' "

-- Astros general manager Tim Purpura says "anything's possible" to turn the slumping team around. "The way we're going is obviously not acceptable," he said.

On deck

CHEERS: For Daric Barton. The first baseman for the Triple A Sacramento River Cats had a 22-game hitting streak through Wednesday night and was batting .505 (47-for-93) in June. He was acquired by Oakland as part of the Mark Mulder deal with St. Louis in December 2004.

JEERS: To the Pittsburgh Pirates. A group of fans has organized a protest of the team's losing ways tomorrow when a sellout crowd is expected for the Bob Walk bobblehead giveaway game against the Astros.

A demonstration is planned before the game with an as-yet unidentified member of the 1971 world championship team advertised as the keynote speaker. Fans are asked to wear green, symbolizing the money that has been spent supporting a franchise well on its way to a 15th straight losing season, and to leave their seats after the third inning and return in the fourth.

The Pirates have responded by asking their TV crew not to discuss the walkout with the media, leaning on FSN Pittsburgh not to show the protest as part of its game coverage and removing all comments about the event from their message board at pirates.com.

Heck, Bucs management ought to be happy there are people who still care enough to get angry. When apathy sets in, that's when they'll be in real trouble.

By the numbers

2: Cardinals who started Game 7 of the World Series last October that were in the lineup for the first two games of this week's series against the Mets: first baseman Albert Pujols and rightfielder Juan Encarnacion.

5: Grand slams by the Brewers this season. In 2006, Milwaukee hit none.

45: Pitches thrown by Mets righthander Pedro Martinez during live batting practice to minor leaguers Tuesday at Port St. Lucie, Fla. It's still thought he could be back in the rotation by Aug. 1.

143 2/3: Consecutive innings without allowing a home run for Padres starters Jake Peavy and Chris Young, who combine the two longest active streaks in the majors.

Up next

As if the last-place Devil Rays didn't have enough problems, they play the Red Sox on Tuesday. For the first time this season. Meaning they play 18 of their final 82 games - 22 percent - against the team with baseball's best record.

Weeklings

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Red Sox manager Terry Francona, on shutting righthander Curt Schilling down until after the All-Star break to rest his shoulder: "We want him to be able to finish the season being a consistent, good pitcher. That's why we're trying to use good judgment. Sometimes it's not a lot of fun using good judgment, but that's what we're trying to do."

CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK: The latest sign yet that Alex Rodriguez plans to opt out of the richest contract in baseball history with 3 years remaining to seek even bigger bucks came last weekend while the Yankees were visiting San Francisco. As free agents do, A-Rod couldn't say enough nice things about (insert the name of the city in question), all the better to create as much bidding as possible when the proper time comes. "I love the vibe," he gushed. "It's a West Coast New York with better weather in the summer. [And] I love the stadium."

WAR STORY OF THE WEEK: Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre remembers how it was back when he was young, coming up through the Dodgers organization, and it was old-school all the way. "Back in the day, when you did something wrong, sometimes the veterans would grab you by the collar and talk to you," he recalled. "It's not like that now. Not everybody wants to listen." Ah, yes, the good old days. Back before Beltre was, you know, as old as he is now: 28.

SCARY STORY OF THE WEEK: The Dodgers don't like to talk about it, but there are whispers that some players swear they heard ghosts during their recent stay at the plush Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Finally

There will be a lot of players eager to find out if they're going to San Francisco for this year's All-Star Game. Not Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford. Not after being omitted last year.

"That game won't bother me again," he told the St. Petersburg Times. "I was so excited about last year and I had it taken away from me. I took it personally a little bit. It was like Christmas when you not only didn't get the gift you wanted, you find out there is no Santa Claus."

Joe Maddon says the problem is that Crawford plays for one of baseball's more invisible franchises, but promises that will change if the Devil Rays start winning.

"He's been playing in anonymity for a number of years now," the manager said. "If he was a big city slicker, his numbers would be enough to get him in." *

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