Penny to represent Dodgers as All-Star
Righty has rebounded from arm injury with stellar first half
ANAHEIM -- Right-handed starting pitcher Brad Penny, fully recovered from an arm injury that threatened his future, was rewarded for the best first half of his career by being named the Dodgers' lone representative to the National League All-Star team on Sunday.
"I'm excited," Penny said after the Dodgers' loss to the Angels on Sunday. "It'll be an honor, but it's still a week away and we need to go out and play better than we have in the past few days."
This will be the first All-Star appearance for Penny, 28, who has rebounded from a damaged biceps nerve to join Derek Lowe as staff co-ace. Although Penny is initially the Dodgers' lone All-Star, first baseman Nomar Garciaparra is one of the five candidates in the Monster.com 2006 All-Star Final Vote.
"I'm real excited, I've never done it, it's definitely something I wanted to experience," said Penny. "It could have easily been Derek Lowe, too. He pitched great and had some bad breaks. But things have to work out for you, there's a little luck involved, where the ball is hit, how good the defense plays, how many runs we score that day."
For Penny, whose resume includes World Series heroics with the Marlins, 2006 appears to be his true breakout season. Acquired from Florida at the 2004 trade deadline in the Paul Lo Duca deal, Penny quickly faced his professional mortality by suffering a freak nerve injury that had him on the shelf nearly eight months and still nagged at him throughout the 2005 season.
Pledging to work harder through an offseason conditioning program, Penny has emerged as the Dodgers' most consistent starter. He possesses an overpowering 96-mph fastball and the will to challenge hitters with it, a plus overhand curveball, and he has dusted off a split-finger fastball he was unable to throw last year because of the lingering effects of his injury.
"The key has been probably location, command of my pitches," Penny said. "My breaking ball is a lot better than it was the last year -- the last year and a half since I got hurt. It takes a lot of things, it takes good defense and me and the catcher being on the same page, and it takes scoring a lot of runs. They scored a lot of runs for me early in my outings and it makes it a little easier and takes the pressure off of me."
As a result, he already has nine victories, two more than he had all of last year. He ranks among league leaders in victories and ERA (2.94). Seven of his nine victories have followed Dodgers losses.
Following Penny's most recent start, a seven-inning victory in Anaheim Friday night, manager Grady Little made it clear he felt Penny was deserving of an All-Star berth.
"For me, it's a no-brainer," Little said. "From what I've seen the first half, I don't see how there can be any question.
"I don't know how good he can be, but he's pretty good right now. He's utilizing his pitches better. Brad's at his best when he's not out there grunting and groaning on every pitch, when he's not trying so hard, when he's just got a rhythm to his delivery. Sometimes, he's just fighting it and the results aren't there. But they are when he's nice and smooth."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.