SEATTLE -- A Mariners team that has been one of the surprising success stories in Major League Baseball in the first half landed three players on the American League All-Star team that was announced Sunday.
Closer Edwin Diaz, right fielder Mitch Haniger and designated hitter Nelson Cruz all were named to the AL squad for the July 17 game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Shortstop Jean Segura will also make his second career All-Star appearance after winning the Camping World MLB All-Star Final Vote for the AL.
Diaz and Haniger will be making their first All-Star appearances, while Cruz was selected for the sixth time in his career and third time in his four years as a Mariner. Seattle hasn't had more than two All-Stars in a season since 2014, when Felix Hernandez, Fernando Rodney, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager all made the team.
"We're certainly well represented," manager Scott Servais said. "Eddie Diaz had an unbelievable first half. Nelson Cruz has been there before. I'm really happy for Mitch Haniger getting his first trip."
James Paxton also was not named to the AL team despite an 8-3 record and 3.49 ERA in 19 starts, though some players could still be added as injury replacements.
"It's always special. It doesn't get old," Cruz said. "It's a great event in the middle of the season. I guess you do something good and special to deserve to go."
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Diaz was an obvious selection as he leads all MLB relievers with 35 saves and is already just the second pitcher in Major League history with 30-plus saves and 70-plus strikeouts prior to the All-Star break.
"It's an honor for me to be selected and represent Seattle," Diaz said. "It's a dream because as a little kid, I watched those guys play in the All-Star Game and now I'm there. I worked hard to be there."
The hard-throwing 24-year-old has made a rapid ascension to the top of his craft. He was promoted to the Majors only two years ago from Double-A ball and quickly became the Mariners' closer. He totaled 34 saves last season and has already eclipsed that number this year, while racking up 78 strikeouts with 13 walks in 47 innings.
"It speaks volumes to the makeup and maturity," Servais said. "It [usually] takes a while, but it hasn't taken him very long to grasp on to that role and understand it. He continues to learn, watching other guys do it and being around some of our veteran bullpen guys has really helped and been a good influence on him. He's having a great first half. When a game starts, it's 'How do we get to Eddie?' If you do, you're in a good spot. He's been fantastic."
Haniger also has taken a big jump forward this season, his second full year in the Majors. The 27-year-old right fielder is tied for second in the AL in RBIs with 62 while batting .271 with 17 home runs.
In typical Haniger fashion, he said he'd wait until after the first half ends next Sunday in Colorado before shifting his attention to the All-Star hoopla.
"That'll be a cool experience," he said. "I'm just going to focus on this last week before we head in there because we've got a lot of ground we can make up, and winning these meaningful games in July will hopefully make August and September easier. So the focus until then is just winning ballgames and after that I can focus on the All-Star Game and just try to soak it in."
"He's a worthy candidate, no doubt," Servais said. "He's been great, with us losing Robinson Cano and being able to slide Mitch predominantly into the three-hole. He's continuing to grow as a player. He's not as young as some of the young guys in the league, but his experience level in the league isn't quite there yet. But you'd never know it with how he prepares and handles things throughout a game and how he makes adjustments."
Cruz got off to a slow start this season while dealing with injuries, but has homered 11 times in Seattle's last 26 games to again place himself among the game's top power hitters. The 38-year-old has hit more home runs than anyone in MLB over the past five years and his 22 this season puts him in a tie for sixth in the AL before Sunday's action.
"He had a very slow start and a couple nagging injuries," Servais said. "But he got on that stretch where he was so hot and really got going. I think everybody looks at our ballclub and the record we have, certainly he's a big part of it in the middle of our lineup. He's a name people recognize, no question about it."
On Tuesday, July 17, while watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, fans can submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote.
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