TORONTO – Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada was all smiles while he excitedly spoke to reporters on Tuesday after being named to the American League all-star team for the first time in his nine-year career.
Now he wants to make sure he can actually pitch in the game.
Estrada, who’s 5-3 with a 2.93 earned-run average and a major-league leading .173 batting average against this season, received four cortisone shots on Monday to help heal a sore back that flared up after his last start.
The 33-year-old sat down with manager John Gibbons and a “room filled with people” on Tuesday afternoon to discuss his options ahead of the July 12 game at San Diego’s Petco Park.
“I want to be able to pitch,” Estrada said. “It’s my first time (at an all-star game) and it could be my only time. But the team has to come first. If I can’t pitch for the team right now I shouldn’t pitch anywhere else.
“We’re going to give it a few days. We haven’t put a stamp on anything. … It might be wise to take a few days off and if that means not pitching in the all-star game I might have to do that. But right now we just don’t know.”
Estrada, one of three Blue Jays named to the AL team Tuesday, reaggravated a back injury that kept him out of most of spring training while taking a swing during an interleague game in Philadelphia last month.
He experienced severe discomfort during his last start, a 9-6 win over Cleveland on Saturday, in which the he threw 96 pitches over five innings. Estrada’s next start is scheduled for Thursday against Detroit, but that will likely be pushed back with Drew Hutchison available to start in his place.
Not known as a power arm – Estrada averages 88.3 miles per hour on his fastball – he’s hoping his all-star nod will help diminish the notion that major league pitchers need to light up the radar guns.
“It means a lot to me and it also shows you don’t have to throw 95 or harder,” he said. “It seems like every starter these days throws at least 95. The other day I pitched with a bad back and my velo was way down and I still did OK.
“I want to show guys in high school who don’t think they throw hard enough that it really doesn’t matter. Just hit your spots.”
Reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion will also represent Toronto at the all-star game while Canadian outfielder Michael Saunders was named one of the Final Vote nominees for the last roster spot which will be determined by a fan vote and revealed Friday afternoon.
Saunders, who’s batting .290 with a .366 on-base percentage and 15 home runs, is having a breakout year after missing all but nine games last season with knee injuries.
“I felt like it was kind of a redemption year for me, not that it gave me that extra drive to work that much harder or anything like that, but playing for the Blue Jays was a dream of mine growing up,” the Victoria native said. “Missing all of last year was really hard on me, more so mentally and emotionally than it was physically.
“I really wanted to prove to myself and prove to the organization and to the fan base why they traded for me in the first place and I’ve worked obviously very hard in the off-season and continue to work hard during the year to be where I am right now.”
Saunders’ first half was highlighted by a three-homer game in Baltimore last month. Blue Jays fans in attendance threw their caps onto the field in celebration of the baseball hat trick.
Donaldson entered Tuesday’s play hitting .298 this season with 20 home runs and 58 runs-batted in. His .411 on-base percentage ranks sixth in MLB while his .581 slugging percentage is third in the AL.
This all-star game will mark Donaldson’s third straight appearance after representing Toronto last season and Oakland in 2014. Baltimore’s Manny Machado was named the starting AL third baseman.
Encarnacion has 22 home runs and 76 RBI’s to go along with a .264 batting average in 84 games. The 33-year-old leads the majors in RBIs and is tied for fourth in home runs.
Encarnacion appeared at the 2013 and 2014 all-star games – both with the Blue Jays.