Nationals finding a way to Kansas City

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Strasburg and Harper to make All-Star debuts

The Nationals' four players selected to this year's Major League Baseball All-Star Game each took his own unique path to Kansas City for Tuesday night's event.

In his first full season after Tommy John surgery, ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg expected to make it. It would have been considered a failure if he didn't. Rookie Bryce Harper was in the minor leagues in April just hoping to get a shot in the majors. Injuries gave him that chance, and he took full advantage.

Gio Gonzalez was his team's lone representative when he pitched for Oakland last season, and after an offseason trade to Washington some critics wondered if that appearance was a fluke. That big ballpark, after all, gives pitchers a distinct advantage.

MLB All-Star Game
When » Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Where » Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
TV » Fox

Nats shortstop Ian Desmond was at a career crossroads this spring. Either he proved he was an everyday shortstop in the big leagues or he could find himself as a super-utility player. In the first half, he passed that test even if an oblique injury will keep him out of the All-Star Game.

In first place in the National League East entering the break and with its first winning record and playoff berth in sight, having four players named to the All-Star team is just another benchmark in Washington's rise from futility.

"Ever since the Lerners came in [as owners in 2006] there's been a steady increase in our talent level, the desire to win," Desmond said. "That's the direction that the organization is going. We've set new standards."

Desmond made the difficult decision to rest his nagging oblique injury and will be home in Sarasota, Fla., instead of in Kansas City. But he earned his way there, leading all National League shortstops in home runs (17), RBIs (51) and OPS (.830).

Gonzalez, acquired in December for four of Washington's top minor league prospects, has proven he belongs in elite company with a 2.92 ERA and 118 strikeouts, tied for seventh in the majors. He's also the only one with previous All-Star experience.

Last summer, Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett pulled Gonzalez aside just as he was about to leave the clubhouse at Chase Field in Phoenix after a workout. Beckett told him to take in the event -- watch the whole Home Run Derby, stick around for the game itself.

"You just got to enjoy the moment. It happens once-in-a-lifetime for some [players]," Gonzalez said. "It might come another time. It doesn't matter. ... Some people can't talk about doing this."

As for Strasburg and Harper, they will garner more attention than most given the scrutiny they've faced as two of the game's greatest prospects. They're ready for it.

"A lot has happened the last couple of years -- being the No. 1 pick, getting hurt after all the expectations and then spending the year rehabbing," Strasburg said. "To do this is something I never really expected, but at the same time I'm not necessarily satisfied."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner