CLEVELAND -- As the bullpen has evolved and a starter's workload has diminished, there has been far greater appreciation for middle relievers -- the guys who don't rack up the saves, but get critical outs in the seventh and eighth innings.
It was evident in last year's All-Star Game, when the Royals' Aaron Crow, the Yankees' David Robertson, the Nationals' Tyler Clippard and the Braves' Jonny Venters -- a quartet that combined to rack up six saves throughout all of 2011 -- all got invited.
This year, not so much.
Ten relievers will be going to next week's Midsummer Classic in Kansas City, but all of them are closers, which means a guy like Ernesto Frieri is only an AL Final Vote candidate -- and Scott Downs is essentially ignored despite posting a 0.32 ERA in 28 innings.
Downs could be useful as a late-inning lefty in a game that decides World Series home-field advantage, but he only shares the closer's role with Frieri and thus struggles to get noticed.
"I'm not mad, I'm not upset," said Downs, who has never made an All-Star team in his 11-year career. "All I can do is go out and do what I do. If it gets recognized, great. If it doesn't, as long as I help the team out, that's all that matters."
Downs has been doing a lot of that. Like last season, when he posted a 1.34 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 53 2/3 innings. Or Monday night, when he preserved a three-run lead by getting out of a two-on, none-out jam with seven pitches and notched a six-out save -- his seventh -- in a win over the Indians.
Downs hardly tops 90 mph, but his mechanics are rock solid, his control is pinpoint and his sinker is devastating.
"You can say what you want to say, but I've never -- never, never -- in my whole career been around a pitcher that doesn't elevate the ball, who doesn't try to overthrow, whose mechanics are just as solid as the foundation as this building," veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. "It's incredible. It's incredible. And I tell him all the time."
Weaver could start second straight All-Star Game
CLEVELAND -- Through their 50-plus-year history, the Angels have never had a pitcher start back-to-back All-Star Games.
Jered Weaver could be the first.
With seven-plus innings of shutout baseball in Monday's 3-0 win over the Indians, Weaver put his record at 9-1 and his ERA at 2.13, which topped the White Sox' Chris Sale for the lowest in the American League and makes him one of the favorites to start the All-Star Game again.
But that decision will be left to Ron Washington, skipper of the American League and the division-rival Rangers.
"I think it's a pretty big honor to start the All-Star Game," said Weaver, who has those numbers despite missing nearly three weeks on the disabled list with a lower back strain. "Just to be a part of it is an honor in itself, but I think that if Washington picks one guy to start the game, it's a pretty big honor. But I don't think you look at it any differently. It's just a great opportunity to be a part of an All-Star Game."
Other candidates to start include Sale (10-2, 2.19 ERA), former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson (9-4, 2.33 ERA), reigning AL Most Valuable Player Justin Verlander (8-5, 2.69 ERA), the Rays' David Price (11-4, 2.92 ERA) and Washington's own Matt Harrison (11-3, 3.16 ERA). Of that group, only Sale is lined up to pitch Sunday, but the White Sox have already decided that his Tuesday night start will be his last of the first half.
Can Washington pick Weaver as his starter again?
"I have an idea on who I want to be as the starting pitcher," Washington said Tuesday, "and I'll let that be known when the time comes."
The Angels have had a pitcher start the Midsummer Classic in back-to-back years, with Ken McBride doing it in 1963 and Dean Chance getting the honor in '64, but it's never been the same guy.
Weaver was chosen to his third straight All-Star Game on Sunday. He was ineligible to pitch in 2010 because he pitched the Sunday before, and he started the 2011 game when the same thing happened to his biggest competition, Verlander.
Weaver pitched a scoreless first inning in that Midsummer Classic in Phoenix, with one walk and one strikeout.
"I was pretty nervous," Weaver admitted. "It was a packed house and you're going up against the best in their league. Obviously it's a little nerve-wracking, but once you throw that first strike, you calm yourself down."
Weaver would prefer to start, just because he can get his normal long-toss in and it's what he's used to, but he hasn't given it much thought.
"If it happens, it happens," said Weaver, whose next start will come Saturday against the Orioles. "If it doesn't, it's just an honor to be a part of the All-Star Game. It'll be fun just to take part in the festivities, and I think the thing I'm most excited about is watching Mark Trumbo hit homers [in the State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday]."
Angels reach midway point of season
CLEVELAND -- If Torii Hunter were giving the Angels a grade for the first half of the season, it'd be a solid "B."
"I give it a 'B' because of the slow start," Hunter said. "We had a 'D' at the beginning, but we started studying and working and getting it done, and I think we got our grades up."
The Angels reached the midway point of their season with Game No. 81 against the Indians on Tuesday -- and it was Progressive Field that kind of brought it all full circle.
It was here, in late April, when the Angels hit their low. Their bullpen was constantly blowing games, the offense struggled to score and the Angels dropped five in a row to put them at 6-14. Then, after a 3-2 loss to the Indians on April 27, they released Bobby Abreu, called up a kid named Mike Trout and took off -- posting a 37-21 record that's the best in the Majors since then.
Now, the Angels (45-35) entered Tuesday 10 games above .500 and are tied with the Orioles for the first AL Wild Card spot. Trout's emergence at the leadoff spot sparked the offense, the Ernesto Frieri acquisition practically saved the bullpen and the team started to come together.
"The clubhouse is our heart, this is it, what we are," Hunter said. "So now we're gelling, we're showing it on the field, we're playing well. But through the first six weeks, we had negativity, we had everything going on, so it showed on the field."
Mike Trout (jammed right pinkie) and Albert Pujols (sore left shoulder) were game-time decisions, but both got through batting practice fine and both were in the starting lineup for Tuesday's game against the Indians.
Trout's three-run homer in the fifth on Tuesday gave him 10 home runs and 52 RBIs on the year, making him just the fourth Angels rookie to log 10 homers and 50-plus RBIs prior to the All-Star break.
The international signing period "does not seem to be a point of emphasis" with the Angels right now, according to a source with knowledge of the team's thinking. The Angels will focus on the "lower end of the market," the source said, hoping to sign the 17- to 18-year-old prospects who could yield reasonable six-figure bonuses, rather than anyone who would cost more than $1 million.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.