- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Four Washington Nationals players were selected to the 2016 National League All-Star team on Tuesday, tying a franchise record.

Right fielder Bryce Harper received a starting spot in the outfield for the 87th All-Star Game on July 12 at Petco Park. Second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was edged out of a starting spot by the Chicago Cubs’ Ben Zobrist by just 88 votes, and catcher Wilson Ramos were named as NL reserves.

Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg (11-0) was also named to the NL’s pitching roster.

“We’ve got four guys going to the All-Star game and that’s really impressive,” losing pitcher Gio Gonzalez (4-8) said Tuesday after the Nationals’ second consecutive loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, this one 5–2. “All of these guys worked their tails off in the first half and they’re still going. These guys are unbelievable and are a big help for our season so far.”

Manager Dusty Baker said he was pleased with the four players that were chosen, but thought right-hander Max Scherzer (9-6) and shortstop Danny Espinosa were also deserving of the honor.

Harper will be just one of three position players to start for the NL in San Diego next week who is not on the Chicago Cubs, currently the best team in baseball.

The Cubs are the first team to have four starters in the infield since the 1963 Saint Louis Cardinals. Five Cubs total were named to the team.

Harper, last year’s unanimous NL MVP, who shared the 2015 NL home run title and posted a league-leading .460 OBP, is off to a slower start in 2016 but still making a difference at the plate.

He is hitting .258 with 48 RBI, 69 hits and 17 home runs, second-most on the Nationals entering Tuesday’s game. Patience at the plate has led Harper to a league-best 66 walks and a .404 OBP, which is the fourth-highest in the NL.

“All three of [my teammates] deserve it,” Harper said. “I can’t wait to go out there, rep for the Nationals and really enjoy it with those guys.”

The selection marks Harper’s fourth career and second consecutive All-Star appearance.

Murphy has put up stellar numbers in his first season in Washington, joining the team in December after seven years with the NL East rival New York Mets. The 31-year-old boasts a team-high .347 batting average, the second-best average in baseball. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve is hitting .353.

“Murph’s been a wizard,” Harper said. “We’ve needed him the whole time and I think he’s been such a leader for this team…he’s just been unbelievable.”

Entering Tuesday’s game, the 2015 NLCS MVP also led the NL in hits (108) and ranked first among NL second basemen in doubles (22), RBI (56) and slugging percentage (.579).

Murphy played a pivotal role in last week’s three-game series against his former team, homering twice in a 4-2 victory on June 29 to help complete the sweep of the Mets and tie his single-season high home run total of 14. The selection is the second of Murphy’s career and the first since 2014.

“This is a tough league to be an All-Star so it’s humbling,” Murphy said. “Ben Zobrist, the starter, is having a fantastic year and he’s well-deserving.”

Ramos, who paced MLB catchers with a .340 batting average entering Tuesday, trailed NL front runners Yadier Molina and Buster Posey closely in the final day of All-Star voting.

Ramos had hit safely in 14 of his last 17 games heading into Tuesday, and led MLB catchers in OBP (.396) and RBI (46). This will be Ramos‘ first career All-Star appearance.

“This is really special for [Ramos]. He doesn’t say much, but his facial expression showed he was extremely happy to be going,” Baker said. “He’s come a long way…You like to see a guy rewarded for his hard work.”

Washington’s sole representation in the bullpen will be the right-handed Strasburg, making his third career All-Star appearance.

Returning from a two-week stint on the disabled list, the 27-year-old pitched 6 2/3 hitless innings in his last start on Monday and boasts a 2.71 ERA. He is the first NL starter to begin a season 11-0 since 1985.

“What he battled through and what he’s going through, I mean this guy is a real horse, a real leader in this rotation,” Gonzalez said of Strasburg, who was not available to the media Tuesday night.

Espinosa named NL Player of the Week

Espinosa was named NL Player of the Week on Tuesday for the first time in his career after a record-setting series against the Cincinnati Reds.

“It was probably the best week I’ve ever had,” Espinosa said Tuesday. “I had a lot of fun being able to contribute to the wins obviously and it felt really good to be a big part of this team.”

Across the week of June 27-July 3, Espinosa hit .423 with two doubles, five home runs, 17 RBI, and eight runs scored.

His most outstanding stretch came against the Reds, when Espinosa became the fifth shortstop to slug two grand slams in a single series. He also hit home runs from both sides of the plate during the same game, and drove in 15 runs, a franchise record for RBI in a single series.

“I don’t know if anyone could have done any better,” Baker said. “I hope that’s not the last [time he wins it]. That was a tremendous week.”

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