KANSAS CITY -- Guardians manager Terry Francona gathered his team in the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday morning. The players knew the All-Star selections were about to be announced. What they didn’t know is who was going to be representing the Guardians in Los Angeles.
Francona started with the team’s most obvious All-Star, announcing that José Ramírez had been selected to his fourth Midsummer Classic. The skipper then announced that his hard-throwing closer Emmanuel Clase punched his first ticket to the All-Star Game. That’s when he asked the room to give a round of applause for their All-Stars.
This was Francona’s way to build suspense. Clase and Ramírez were nearly guarantees to make the American League squad. But second baseman Andrés Giménez -- although his numbers have been solid this year -- wasn’t necessarily a lock.
For a moment, Giménez may have thought he didn't make it when Francona acted as if the meeting was over. But then he told everyone to stop clapping so that he could reveal that Giménez had also been named an All-Star for the first time.
“I mean, it really surprised me, especially with the way Tito delivered the news,” Giménez said, through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “The way he made that break made it more confusing. But I always stay optimistic and positive that that’s going to happen.”
Although both Clase and Giménez will be experiencing the festivities for the first time, this recognition may mean even more to Giménez, who had a difficult year in 2021. Fresh off the Francisco Lindor trade that brought him to Cleveland, Giménez had high expectations for what he could bring to his new team, and the excitement grew even more after a red-hot spring campaign.
But as he got into the regular season, Giménez struggled, hitting just .180 with a .534 OPS before he was optioned to Triple-A for over two months. And even when he got the call back up later in the year, he still couldn’t find his stride.
Fast forward a season later and Giménez has been one of the most important pieces to the Guardians’ young roster puzzle. He had hit .300 with an .836 OPS, 11 doubles, two triples, nine homers and 40 RBIs at the time he was named an All-Star.
“Yeah, it’s a form of validation for all the work that we’ve done, not only myself, but the coaches and being consistent and patient with me and also my teammates supporting me along the way,” Giménez said. “But I think the most important part for me is being able to come every day and help the team win.”
Along with Giménez, Clase is ready to take his 100 mph cutter to the big stage for the first time. After a solid rookie season in 2021, Clase has returned in ’22 as one of the most dominant closers in the Majors, owning a 1.53 ERA with an AL-best 19 saves in his first 37 games.
Clase’s fastball spin ranks in the 99th percentile, according to Statcast, while his chase rate and fastball velocity sit at the top of the board in the 100th percentile.
“I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of those players and having that experience, but also being able to get on the mound and strike them out, because that's my game,” Clase said, through Rivero, with a grin on his face. “I like to strike out people, so that's what I'm looking forward to doing.”
Both Clase and Giménez will have Ramírez to lean on throughout this process, considering this will be the Cleveland star’s fourth trip to the Midsummer Classic (also in 2017, ’18 and ’21). The race for the American League starting third baseman came down to Ramírez and Boston’s Rafael Devers, and even though Ramírez received the most votes in the first round of voting, he was bested by the Red Sox slugger in the final phase and moved to the reserves list.
“It still feels good to get to tell him [he’s an All-Star] in front of his teammates,” Francona said. “Because any chance we get to show him some appreciation feels good.”