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Rangers place two players on AL All-Star roster

Being at home for the All-Star Game this year has a whole different meaning.

For Kirby Yates, it’s the culmination of a great comeback story. For Marcus Semien, it’s a testament to his reputation for hard work and effort. Both will be introduced as All-Stars in front of the home crowd at Globe Life Field on July 16.

For Josh Smith, though, it still means the same thing: Getting snubbed.

The Rangers, the first defending World Champs to host an All-Star Game in nearly 90 years, placed two players on the AL team, which will be managed by Bruce Bochy, MLB announced Sunday night. Semien, last year’s starter at second, will back up Jose Altuve. Yates, who battled back from three years of elbow issues, is one of four relievers. Both were chosen by their peers in player voting.

Smith, perhaps the Rangers’ best player all season, is nowhere to be found, perhaps the victim of numbers and the MLB regulation that stipulates every team must have an All-Star. Smith could still make the team, but it’s a complicated, convoluted road. More on that in a moment. In the meantime, on the guys who will definitely be there:

“It’s one of the moments you love in this game, to be able to deliver good news,” said Bochy, who will manage in the game for the fifth time. “It’s great for both of those guys to make it. Kirby has been pretty close to flawless for us. We’re not where we want to be, but I’d hate to think where we would be without him. It was pretty cool to be able to tell him, especially after the road he’s been down the last five years. It says a lot about his dedication and intestinal fortitude.”

It has been a stunning comeback year for Yates, 37, who made the NL All-Star team in 2019 and then dealt with three years of elbow injuries. Yates injured the elbow in 2020, ended up having ligament reconstruction surgery the next spring and didn’t pitch again in the majors until August of 2022. A month later, he was shut down with renewed elbow inflammation.

He signed a one-year deal with the Rangers in December to give them some extra late-inning relief options, took over as the closer two weeks into the season and, to quote Bochy, has been essentially flawless.

Relying heavily on a devastating forkball, he began the day as the only AL reliever to be in the top 10 in relief ERA (0.86, 2nd), relief WHIP (0.86, 8th) and relief strikeout percentage (35.8%, 6th). In addition, at 13 for 13 in save chances, he’s the only reliever in baseball with at least six opportunities and no blown saves. He has not allowed a homer in 31.1 innings, tied for the most innings without a homer allowed among AL relievers this season.

“I’m excited and very, very proud of myself,” Yates said. “It was kind of a goal to push myself back to the level I could be. The last five years have been weird. If you asked me in March or April of 2023 if I thought I’d get back to this level, I’d have probably told you I didn’t think it was possible. There has been a lot of hard work in the last five years.”

This time, Yates might even get to pitch. In 2019, he was named the NL’s closer by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, which Yates said was a sign of real “respect,” but didn’t pitch because the NL didn’t have a late lead. This time around, he’ll have his own manager in the dugout and it’s more likely Bochy will make pitching him a higher priority than naming him closer. The AL is carrying three other relievers - Cleveland’s Emmanuel Clase, Oakland’s Mason Miller and the New York Yankees’ Clay Holmes. Each of the three has at least 14 saves.

Players choose three relievers and Yates won a tight battle for the third spot behind Clase and Miller, who significantly outpaced the field. When there was another spot available in the bullpen because all teams had at least one rep on the roster, Holmes, presumably fourth in the player voting, was added by MLB.

It will be Semien’s third All-Star Game appearance and his second straight with the Rangers.

Player voting took place from June 27-30. Semien has been in a deep slump since mid-June. Over a 17-game span, he was just 7 for 72 (.097) without a homer before homering in the bottom of the seventh to give the Rangers a lead. On Sunday, he was  0 for 4 with a walk leaving him with a .101/.165/.173/.339 slash line over the last three weeks. It dropped his season OPS to .673. The only Ranger All-Star with a lower OPS at the break was infielder Bert Campaneris, who went into the break in 1977 at .670.

But second base has been a weak position in the AL. Only four players have played at least 70 games there. Semien ranked second among the four in WAR, according to Fangraphs, largely built on the fact he’s played so much and continued to play above average defense.

“It’s always an honor to be named to the All-Star team,” Semien said. “It seemed like a lighter position this year. I’m grinding out there every day.”

Asked if he “felt like an All-Star this year,” based on the performance against his career numbers, Semien opted not to look backwards.

“I’m on the All-Star team and I’m excited to be there,” he said. “If nobody thinks I should be there, I’m still going to be out there. I don’t know what else to do.”

Smith, however, will be at home unless something changes, namely that an infielder backs out.  He was on the player ballot at third base as Josh Jung’s replacement for most of the first half of the year. The position is far deeper. Though he’s played very well, he ranked only seventh in OPS (.802) at the position among players with at least 100 plate appearances at third. Starter José Ramirez and the two chosen backups began Sunday with higher OPS numbers at the position.

“It’s obviously upsetting,” Smith said. “But I’m happy for our guys that made it.”

Is he holding out hope to be a late addition? Not really.

“I’m not sure I want to be an alternate,” he said.

He’d just as soon be at home.

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