Marlins tie club high with four All-Stars
Willis, Lo Duca, Castillo, Cabrera return to Midsummer Classic
NEW YORK -- Star power is on the Marlins' roster, and for the second straight season, it will be showcased in the All-Star Game.
Heading to Detroit for the Midsummer Classic to be played July 12 will be left-hander Dontrelle Willis, catcher Paul Lo Duca, second baseman Luis Castillo and left fielder Miguel Cabrera.
All four of the Marlins representatives were voted on by the coaches and players. In fact, if the players' ballot determined the starting lineup, instead of the fans, three Marlins would be in the starting lineup. According to the players, Willis, Lo Duca and Cabrera would be starters.
"It's definitely a high honor that other guys are talking about and appreciate what I'm doing as a pitcher and a ballplayer," said Willis of being picked by his peers.
Sending four to the All-Star Game matches a franchise high, also done last year. A year ago, when the game was in Houston and Marlins manager Jack McKeon directed the National League squad, Florida sent Cabrera, Mike Lowell, Armando Benitez and Carl Pavano.
While the Marlins have underachieved a bit overall in the first half, they boast a quality lineup and stellar starting pitching that promise to make them formidable in the playoff race for the second half.
Willis, the flamboyant left-hander, has had arguably the best season of any starter.
Living up to his star-status, Willis learned he made the squad shortly before taking the mound to face the Mets on Sunday at Shea Stadium. In impressive fashion, the left-hander tossed a three-hit, complete-game shutout, as the Marlins won, 3-0.
The 23-year-old Alameda, Calif., native has five complete games to match Toronto's Roy Halladay for the most in the Major Leagues. And his four shutouts are tops in baseball.
The way Willis has performed, several of his teammates say the high-leg kicking lefty is the team's first-half MVP. In the eyes of the Marlins, Willis is deserving of being the starting pitcher in the National League, especially after he improved to 13-3 with a 1.89 ERA.
As impressive as Willis' numbers are, he points out baseball is a team game.
"I'm just so happy for my guys," Willis said. "They don't understand how much I appreciate these guys. No one makes it on their own. It's an individual accolade. But these guys have played their hearts out for everybody, and they play their hearts out for each other."
McKeon isn't saying how National League manager Tony La Russa should use Willis in the All-Star Game. But the Marlins' skipper makes it clear that Willis' numbers speak for themselves. Plus the fact that Willis' last start before the All-Star Game will be Friday, at home against the Cubs, so he would be available to start the Midsummer Classic, if called upon.
"He leads the league in shutouts, complete games, and he's going to have plenty of rest," McKeon said.
What has made Willis so effective is the fact he not only has improved his mechanics and has better command of his pitches. Willis also is a factor fielding, hitting and base running.
"I'm fortunate," Willis said. "I'm a 23-year-old going to my second All-Star Game. How many guys in the history of baseball have been fortunate to do that? It's one of those things. I'm going to enjoy it. It's a whirlwind. It hasn't sunk in yet. But I don't want it to sink in until I'm at home, chilling on my couch [in the offseason]. You want to stay hungry. I want to definitely stay motivated."
For Castillo, it is his third trip to the All-Star Game. Lowell, an All-Star from 2002-2004, is the only other Marlins ever picked three times.
The two-time Gold Glove winning second baseman, Castillo ranks among the league leaders in batting average at .338, combined with a .434 on-base percentage.
While the statistics back Castillo going, the veteran is surprised he was picked by the players, because he missed about three weeks in May due to hip flexor and quadriceps ailments to both legs. The Dominican Republic native has played in 59 of the Marlins' 79 games.
"I was thinking I would get three days' rest," Castillo said. "That surprised me. I didn't think I would make the All-Star team."
"When you go to two, you want to go back for three," Castillo said. "Now I'm happy. I feel I'm doing well."
Cabrera, the 22-year-old sensation from Venezuela, is putting up big numbers once again. Batting .340, the slugger leads the team with 16 homers and 59 RBIs. He's also first on the club in hits (103) and runs scored (55).
Willis and Cabrera are each going to the All-Star Game for the second time. Both made the big leap from Double-A Carolina to the big leagues in 2003, and were instrumental in the Marlins winning the World Series.
As a rookie, Willis was added to the All-Star Game that was played at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. The left-hander didn't pitch in that game.
Cabrera, meanwhile, has drawn comparisons to St. Louis standout Albert Pujols since he was in the Minor Leagues. In his third year, but second full big league season, Cabrera is living up to his lofty expectations.
"That's another opportunity they are giving me," Cabrera said.
A year ago when he went, Cabrera's locker was next to Barry Bonds. While Cabrera didn't feel it was his place to interact with many veterans, he observed Bonds and other stars' approach to hitting.
In the player's vote, Cabrera was second among outfielders. The only vote-getter higher was Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu.
As much praise as Cabrera received from his peers, he is equally happy the Marlins are sending four to Detroit.
"That's very good," Cabrera said. "I'm going to see friends over there. I'm happy for everybody. I hope that we do good."
Since their days in the Minor Leagues together, Cabrera has come to expect Willis to doing remarkable things.
"He's amazing," Cabrera said. "He does everything. He does the little things. He hits. He pitches. He does a lot of things to win the games. That's why he's Dontrelle Willis."
Also headed to Detroit is Lo Duca, the scrappy catcher in his first full season with the Marlins. This will be Lo Duca's third straight All-Star appearance, with the last two coming while he was with the Dodgers.
"It's an honor to go, it really is," said Lo Duca, who is batting .304. "I've had a good time the last couple of years. It's good to represent the Marlins. I had been a Dodger the last couple of years. This is going to be different. I'm happy. I'm a lot happier too because we're playing better."
Like he did in Los Angeles, Lo Duca has become a fan-favorite in South Florida with his all-out hustle and penchant for producing in the clutch.
McKeon said first baseman Carlos Delgado was deserving, although he didn't get the nod.
"Delgado was worthy of it also," McKeon said.
The slugging first baseman has been to the All-Star Game twice before with Toronto. But considering the seasons Derrek Lee is having with the Cubs and Pujols' stature with the Cardinals, Delgado understands.
"It's completely out of my hands," said Delgado, who is hitting .300 with 15 homers and 57 RBIs. "There are some guys playing first base who are having phenomenal years."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.