Justin Verlander, Hyun-Jin Ryu tabbed starting pitchers for MLB All-Star Game
CLEVELAND — Sitting next to Justin Verlander, American League manager Alex Cora cheekily declared “we’ve got the opener” as he described his pitching plans.
Houston’s ace has been among the players most critical of some teams’ practice of using relief pitchers as ersatz starters for an inning or two.
Verlander will be making his second All-Star start Tuesday night. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts selected Hyun-Jin Ryu from his own staff to make his first start for the National League.
A 36-year-old right-hander, Verlander is 10-4 with a 2.98 ERA this year for the Houston Astros, striking out 153 in 1262⁄3 innings.
He allowed five runs in the first inning during the 2012 All-Star Game at Kansas City, including the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history, to Pablo Sandoval.
“I kind of halfway blame it on Prince Fielder,” Verlander said. “He was at first base, and he kept whispering at me, ‘Ver, Ver, Ver, throw 100.’ OK, Prince, here we go. So that was back then.”
Verlander, then with Detroit, threw five pitches clocked at 100 mph and another at 101 during a 35-pitch inning.
“I don’t quite throw 100 anymore. Maybe I’ll try tomorrow,” he said. “The goal is to get guys out. That’s it.”
All-Star starters were openers before the term was coined. No starter has pitched more than two innings since Greg Maddux threw three in 1994.
“This game has 120-plus years of history, and I think we’re riding this little wave of things that are a little different right now,” he said. “But I think it will come back around.”
Verlander also is not a fan of the dominance of power and strikeouts — even though he has 2,859.
“The game goes in cycles. I think at a certain point, I think analytics will catch up to things where it’s hard right now,” he said. “I think the ability to put the ball in play will come back in a big way and probably in the not-too-distant future.”
Ryu, a 32-year-old left-hander from South Korea, is 10-2 with a major league-leading 1.73 ERA for the NL champion Dodgers. He is the second Asian All-Star starter after Dodgers rookie Hideo Nomo of Japan in 1995.
“When I signed with the Dodgers, all I wanted was to get a chance to compete with the best in Major League Baseball,” Ryu said through a translator. “I wasn’t necessarily thinking about pitching in an All-Star Game. But like I said before, this is all surreal to me.”
Roberts envisions the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw following Ryu and then New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom. Cora plans to have the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka pitch second and then decided to go backward: New York’s Aroldis Chapman would pitch the ninth if the AL is ahead, Cleveland’s Brad Hand the eighth and Houston’s Ryan Pressly the seventh.
“We’ve got the opener. We’ve got the closer, and the setup guys,” Cora said. “It should be fun.”
Houston’s George Springer leads off and plays right field for the AL. He is followed in the batting order by New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu, Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, Cleveland first baseman Carlos Santana, Boston designated hitter J.D. Martinez, Houston third baseman Alex Bregman, Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez, Astros left fielder Michael Brantley and Minnesota shortstop Jorge Polanco.
Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich tops the NL order and plays left field. Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Báez hits second, followed by Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Cody Bellinger, Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado, the Pirates’ Josh Bell at designated hitter, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, Arizona second baseman Ketel Marte and Atlanta center fielder Ronald Acuña Jr.
Cora joked about LeMahieu’s success against the Red Sox in his first season after leaving the Rockies for New York — especially when Boston played the Yankees in London last month.
“People in the offseason thought that he wasn’t going to be able to hit outside of Colorado. Well, he hits outside of Colorado and in Europe, too,” Cora said.