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Cozart to start, Votto also gets All-Star nod

MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- Zack Cozart finally earned his donkey from Joey Votto on Sunday. The only question that remains is whether or not they choose to ride the burro together to Miami next week.

Both Cozart and Votto are heading to South Beach for the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. The former will also start, after earning the most votes among National League shortstops in the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot.

CINCINNATI -- Zack Cozart finally earned his donkey from Joey Votto on Sunday. The only question that remains is whether or not they choose to ride the burro together to Miami next week.

Both Cozart and Votto are heading to South Beach for the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. The former will also start, after earning the most votes among National League shortstops in the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot.

"I didn't think that I would be nervous to find out if I'm starting or not," Cozart said. "I was hoping that I would make the team, but all of a sudden I was thinking, 'Man, I really want to start the game.' I'm just honored, man. It's a cool thing that you get recognized for the play you've had on the field."

Cozart entered 2017 having missed significant time in each of the previous two seasons and batting .246 for his career, but he has blown that number out of the water so far this season. The first-time All-Star currently leads all Major League shortstops in batting average (.322) and OPS (.958), and he's on pace to post new career highs in runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, and on-base and slugging percentage.

:: Complete All-Star Game coverage ::

"He's been through a lot," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "His name has been out there as far as a trade candidate or free agency and all this other stuff, and he's handled it extremely well and just really focused, as he said, he's just here to play baseball. He's doing a heck of a job of that."

This is Votto's fifth All-Star selection, but first since 2013. The Reds first baseman has had his share of misfortune as well over recent years, as he missed a large chunk of the 2014 season with a knee injury and was left off the last two All-Star rosters despite strong first-half performances.

But 2017 has seen Votto return to a level of play reminiscent of his NL MVP season in 2010. Through 81 games in 2017, his slash line stands at .317/.429/.621 with 23 homers and 59 RBIs.

"I missed representing Cincinnati, and I missed the opportunities in the past," Votto said of the All-Star Game. "But I'm very, very excited to be a part of this one. It's a really good feeling."

Votto was also asked to participate in the 2017 T-Mobile Home Run Derby, but he passed on the offer.

" It's a challenging event. It's something that I'd rather save for the field and during the games."

The past month has been full of donkey-related chicanery, from a dozen burro-themed clubhouse T-shirts, to Votto crashing an Intentional Talk interview in a full donkey suit, to Cozart's wife, Chelsea, joining the fun with some social media campaigning.

Now it's time for Votto to hold up his part of the deal.

Video: Votto on being selected for fifth All-Star Game

"I'm going to have to give [the donkey guy] a ring," he joked. "He doesn't have a phone. He only uses a pager. He's kind of in that black-market business. He'll see it's time to bring that donkey to Cincinnati."

Cozart seemed ready for his new pet.

"I got asked about it a lot earlier when I was out [on the field] taking some pictures," he said. "People were giving me suggestions for names and everything. I guess I might have to look for some land somewhere."

Fans can cast ballots for the 2017 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote on MLB.com, Club sites and their mobile devices until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. The winners, as chosen exclusively by online fan voting totals, will then be announced during "MLB Tonight" live on MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 p.m. Extensive coverage throughout the Final Vote will be provided by MLB Network and MLB.com, including interviews with the candidates, frequent updates, heat maps indicating where votes are being cast for each candidate, news on player and club campaigns, and a running countdown clock leading up to the announcement.

Now in its 16th season, with more than 680 million votes cast, the Final Vote again will include social votes on the last day of balloting, as Twitter support for the 10 candidates over the final six hours of balloting will count toward their vote totals. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET on Thursday, any tweet that includes a designated player hashtag will be tabulated as part of the official vote total used to determine the winners.

On Tuesday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m. ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Jeremy Vernon is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati, and covered the Reds Sunday.

Cincinnati Reds, Zack Cozart, Joey Votto