Cristian Guzman‘s long and often painful journey from free-agent bust to All-Star is complete.
The Washington Nationals shortstop was named to the National League‘s All-Star squad this afternoon, confirmation of the 30-year-old’s fine comeback season. Guzman, who entered Sunday’s game hitting .315 with five homers and 27 RBI, will serve as a backup shortstop on manager Clint Hurdle’s NL team and will be the lone Nationals player to represent the team July 15 at Yankee Stadium.
The honor was well-deserved: Guzman is tied with Texas’ Ian Kinsler for the major-league lead with 118 hits and 35 multi-hit games. He’s been Washington’s most consistent player since the start of the season and the only member of the Opening Night lineup who hasn’t spent any time on the disabled list. The All-Star nod is Guzman’s second; he was a reserve on the AL squad in 2001 while playing for the Minnesota Twins.
Nationals fans who first got a glimpse of him in 2005 have seen a remarkable turnaround in the three-plus years since. After signing a four-year, $16.8 million contract, he struggled through an abysmal season, needing a late surge to raise his batting average to .219. Guzman had laser eye surgery that offseason and came to spring training in 2006 hoping to reap the benefits of the procedure. But he tore the labrum in his right shoulder in March and never played the entire season. Those who knew him from his days in Minnesota believe he had been playing with a bad shoulder for some time. Guzman again arrived at spring training in 2007 hoping to turn his career around, but on Opening Day at RFK he injured his hamstring and went on the DL. He finally came back to hit .328 over 46 games in May and June but then tore a ligament in his thumb and was sidelined again for nearly the remainder of the season.
At long last, Guzman has managed to stay both healthy and productive in 2008. Able to see the ball more clearly because of the laser surgery and swinging a strong bat because of a healthy shoulder, he has developed into a new player. No longer slapping the ball to the opposite field in search of hits, he’s now driving the ball to the gaps, leading to 32 extra-base hits.
Guzman was the consensus All-Star pick among his teammates and coaching staff, but had he not been selected to the squad, reliever Jon Rauch (17 saves, 2.49 ERA) was the likely alternate choice.
- Mark Zuckerman