This time, Rios will have shot to play
Staph infection prevented Jays outfielder from appearing in '06
SEATTLE -- A year ago, Alex Rios was lying in a hospital bed in Toronto when he learned he'd been selected to his first All-Star team. His peers had rewarded him for a breakout performance, but a staph infection cost Rios the chance to play in the Midsummer Classic.
Now, Rios has been given a second opportunity to suit up for the American League's elite squad, this time on July 10 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. On Sunday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who is at the helm for the AL, named Rios to his second straight All-Star team, making the right fielder the lone representative for the Blue Jays.
"Now, I'll probably have the chance to play," Rios said with a smile. "I was watching everything, and I wanted to participate, but I couldn't. It was pretty hard. At the same time, I enjoyed it."
Rios didn't get to enjoy the experience in the same way that some of his teammates did, though. Last summer in Pittsburgh, Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells started for the AL team, and closer B.J. Ryan earned the win against the National League. Roy Halladay, who is a Final Vote candidate this season, turned in an inning in relief, and third baseman Troy Glaus scored a crucial run.
"Last year was unfortunate," said Wells, who didn't finish among the leaders for AL outfielders this year. "He didn't get to have a good time and play in the game. Hopefully, this year, Leyland will give him the chance to get in the game and play, because it's a fun time."
The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.
It's hard to argue with Leyland's decision to add Rios to the AL's bench. Through 80 games, Rios leads Toronto with 17 home runs, 94 hits and 169 total bases. His 45 RBIs are tied with Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill for the team lead, but Rios has garnered most of his at-bats this season in the No. 1 hole.
"You look at what he's done, he's done a lot of damage for us -- most of it coming out of the leadoff spot," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "So, naturally, his RBIs aren't going to be as high as they would be if he were hitting somewhere else."
That role was originally reserved for left fielder Reed Johnson, but he was sidelined with a back injury in April and isn't expect back until after the All-Star break. In the meantime, Rios has made 56 starts in the No. 1 spot in the order, and he's proven to be one of the league's most productive hitters in that position.
Entering Sunday, only Cleveland's Grady Sizemore had more home runs (13) out of the first lineup slot than Rios (12) in the AL, even though Toronto's right fielder ranked eighth in the league with 237 at-bats as a leadoff man. Rios also ranked second among AL leadoff men with a .585 slugging percentage.
The 17 home runs that Rios already has accumulated matches the career high he set last season, and is tied with Minnesota's Torii Hunter for the league high for an outfielder. Overall, Rios has hit .287 with a .515 slugging percentage -- averages that are first among Toronto hitters with at least 200 at-bats.
Rios' first-half surge this season has been the highlight of Toronto's inconsistent offense this season. The production the Jays have received from the 26-year-old outfielder has been reminiscent of the hot start Rios experienced last season.
In the first half of 2006, Rios hit .330 with 15 home runs and 53 RBIs -- a performance that convinced his peers to add him to his first All-Star team. Having a Wolrd Series manager select him a year later meant a lot to Rios.
"It's an honor," Rios said about being selected by the players and Leyland in consecutive seasons. "They're obviously seeing what I'm doing and they think it's a good job. That's great to see that everybody's watching me and they recognize that."
Rios said he probably wouldn't participate in the Home Run Derby if he was asked. Some other Blue Jays said they'd like to see the right fielder give the contest a try, considering the mammoth home runs Rios frequently launches during batting practice.
"He's freakishly strong," said Wells, who lost to Rios in a home run contest prior to the Hall of Fame Game in May. "I think he'd hold his own if he were able to do it. I think he would enjoy it once he got into it.
"We had a good time just doing that one. Obviously, during the All-Star Game, the Home Run Derby would be a totally different level. I think he would enjoy it and put on a show."
"I'd love to see that, especially a right-handed hitter in San Francisco," Gibbons said. "I would love to see it. For my money, he'd have a good chance to win that thing."
Last June, Rios was sidelined by an infection in his left leg that resulted in a month-long stint on the disabled list. Needless to say, a trip to the batter's box for the AL was out of the question. He joined the four additional Toronto All-Stars at PNC Park in Pittsburgh last July, but had to view the festivities from the dugout.
This year, things will be different.
"When I told him, I said, 'Make sure you don't get any cuts or infections in the next 10 days,'" Gibbons said with a laugh. "It's nice to see. Back-to-back All-Star Games, that's putting yourself in an elite class."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.