Sanchez named as NL All-Star reserve

Sanchez named as NL All-Star reserve

MIAMI -- After a one-year hiatus, second baseman Freddy Sanchez is headed back to the Midsummer Classic.

Sanchez was chosen as a reserve for the 33-player National League team, which will be managed by Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel in the 80th All-Star Game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on July 14. He was named to the team through the manager's selection process.

"Obviously, it's an honor to make the team," Sanchez said after the Pirates' 5-0 loss to the Marlins on Sunday. "To be chosen by Charlie, Tony [LaRussa] and Joe [Torre], those are some Hall of Fame managers. For them to even consider me was an honor. It's an honor to be able to represent the Pittsburgh Pirates."

The 80th 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.

Sanchez, the only Pittsburgh representative elected, becomes the first Pirates player since Jason Kendall to be a three-time All-Star. Sanchez is one of three second basemen on the NL team. Philadelphia's Chase Utley was voted in as the starter, and Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson was voted in through the player's ballot.

Sanchez was also selected as a reserve player back in 2006 and '07, but it may have been his absence from the All-Star Game in '08 that spurred him to earn the honor this season. After a shoulder injury affected Sanchez both defensively and offensively much of last season, the second baseman dedicated himself to getting healthy this offseason.

Sanchez came into Spring Training in peak shape and, except for the back spasms that pushed him out of the lineup this week, has been at full strength all season.

"I feel like I worked to get my shoulder right, to get my body feeling good," Sanchez said. "It's definitely rewarding that much more, knowing the effort that I put into the offseason and that I'm still putting in as the season goes on."

There is no question that Sanchez's numbers are All-Star-worthy this year. Heading into Sunday's game against the Marlins, his .316 average was the best among all second basemen in the Majors, with Kansas City's Alberto Callaspo and Arizona's Felipe Lopez trailing him for a distant second with averages of .301.

Few would know that, though, with how quietly Sanchez has gone about becoming one of the league's most consistent hitters this season.

"I think his numbers always have [gone under the radar]," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "That tends to happen when you're in a smaller market and not too good in the standings. You tend to get overlooked a little bit. He definitely deserves to go."

Sanchez already owns the distinction of being one of two players to record six hits in a game this year, having accomplished the feat at Wrigley Field on May 25. The second baseman has 25 doubles this season, trailing the league leaders by just one, and has 31 multihit games, beaten only by Houston's Miguel Tejada in that category.

"He's had a great year," manager John Russell said of Sanchez. "Freddy has worked awfully hard. It started in Spring Training, and he still has a lot of energy right now. I think he feels better about himself this year. I think he's put together a very solid first half."

Not to be overlooked, either, is Sanchez's defense. He has committed only one error, and his .997 fielding percentage is tops among all Major League second basemen. Much of the credit, Sanchez said, goes to infield coach Perry Hill, who joined the organization this offseason.

"Working with him is unbelievable," Sanchez said. "He's the best in the game. I worked so hard with him in Spring Training, and I feel like I've come so far at second. He's a huge part of this."

With only two shortstops and two third basemen named to the NL team, Sanchez will certainly be a versatile option for Manuel. He already holds the distinction of being the only player to have played second, short and third in the All-Star Game and could be used at any of the three positions, if needed.

Sanchez has missed the past three games with lower back spasms, though he expects those to calm down this week in time for him to be cleared to play on July 14.

In addition to earning the distinction of being a three-time All-Star, Sanchez is now closer to assuring that his $8 million option for 2010 will be exercised. The club option was to be guaranteed if Sanchez reached 635 plate appearances this year. However, that threshold was to decrease to 600 plate appearances if Sanchez was named to the All-Star team.

Sanchez entered Sunday with 329 plate appearances this season. If he maintains the same pace, he'll have 658 by season's end.

Sanchez will have to explain himself to his sons Evan and Ryan, though, who had been told they would be spending the break relaxing at a resort for kids.

"Obviously, those plans have changed a little bit," Sanchez said.

Now, along with Sanchez's wife, Alissa, the boys will be joining him in St. Louis.

This is the 14th time in the past 16 years that the Pirates will be represented by just one player in the All-Star Game. Left-hander Zach Duke was also expected to get some consideration for an invite, but he dropped to 12th in the league in ERA and has a pedestrian 8-7 record, largely the result of inconsistent run support.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.