Braves’ Austin Riley added to National League All-Star team

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

WASHINGTON – When Austin Riley walked into the visitors’ clubhouse at Nationals Park on Saturday after the bus arrived and headed toward his locker, tons of Braves teammates and coaches stopped him. One after another, they hugged him and congratulated him.

He is headed to his first All-Star game.

“It’s awesome,” Riley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s something, individually, you play for. I know I’m excited, my family’s excited. They’re going to spend a hectic couple of hours trying to get everything straight, as far as getting them out there and stuff.”

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The 25-year-old Riley replaced Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado on the National League roster for Tuesday’s game at Dodger Stadium. Riley found out at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, when Braves manager Brian Snitker – who will manage the NL squad – called him.

Riley will head to Los Angeles with Snitker and his coaching staff, as well as teammates Ronald Acuña, Dansby Swanson, Max Fried, Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras. The Braves have six All-Stars for the first time since 2010, when they also had six. Atlanta and the Yankees are tied for teams with the most All-Stars this year.

And finally, one of baseball’s prominent snubs was recognized.

When he was added to the All-Star team, Riley had 26 home runs and 60 RBIs. He was hitting .282 with a .913 OPS. Riley ranked second in the NL in home runs, third in OPS and sixth in RBIs. He was tied for sixth in hits.

Riley, who Monday was named NL Player of the Week, was batting .403 with a 1.310 OPS over 15 games in July before he was added to the All-Star roster. He collected five doubles, eight home runs and 17 RBIs in those contests.

These insane numbers turned into a trip to the All-Star game and he added his 27th home run on Saturday.

“It’s a goal for sure,” Riley said. “I think the biggest thing that I’ve always tried to do with my game is just be consistent. Day in and day out, being somebody that the team can rely on, defensively and offensively. Seeing that kind of take place is good to see. There’s always things to work on. You never can be satisfied in this game because it’ll humble you real quick.”

Last year, Riley finished seventh in NL MVP voting. The big question heading into this season: Could be continue playing at that level?

He has answered that in a resounding way.

Riley is the second Braves player in history to hit at least 25 homers and collect at least 100 hits before the All-Star game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The other: Hank Aaron in 1957.

“He’s going to be a perennial All-Star, I think, now,” Snitker said. “There’s two other really good third basemen in the league, that’s for sure, and he’s right there with those guys. He’s in the same conversation both offensively and defensively.”

And because of those two other third basemen – Arenado and San Diego’s Manny Machado – Riley was not included on the initial NL All-Star roster. The thought was that Riley got hot too late. By that time, fans already had voted and players were about to vote.

If Riley continues raking, he could eventually be in the MVP conversations.

“Ecstatic,” Fried said when asked his reaction to Riley making the All-Star team. “What he’s been able to do and what he’s meant to this team, for him to get recognized and shown that he’s one of the best third basemen in baseball, I’m really happy for him.”

After Friday’s win over the Nationals, one reporter asked Riley – who homered in the game – if he was surprised when he saw he didn’t make the NL squad.

“Yeah, part of me was. I felt like I did enough,” Riley said. “But at the end of the day, it is what it is. I get to spend time with family and my baby, so I’m not complaining.”

As it turned out, Riley was rewarded for his performance. He’ll be a part of next week’s festivities. He expects his wife and parents to be in attendance.

Riley is excited to experience everything for the first time.

“I’ve heard it’s crazy, and it’s a lot going on,” he said. “I’ve heard great things. I’m looking forward to it and can’t wait to take it all in.”

A day off for Acuña

Acuña was not in Saturday’s lineup. Snitker said it’s just a day off.

Acuña has struggled at the plate recently. Lately, his outfield defense hasn’t been as good as we’ve come to expect from him.

But Snitker recently expressed confidence in Acuña, who is one of the rare five-tool talents in the game.

Acuña practiced for the Home Run Derby on the field at Nationals Park hours before Saturday’s game.

All-Star starting pitcher

Asked if he knew who would start on the mound for his NL team Tuesday, Snitker shook his head. Then he smiled.

He said he believes he’ll announce it Monday. Could it be Dodgers icon Clayton Kershaw? Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara? We’ll see.

But here’s a wrinkle the Braves’ staff is throwing into the fold: Pitching coach Rick Kranitz has contacted pitching coaches around baseball to see if their All-Star arms will be able to pitch in the game. Snitker doesn’t remember this always being the case.

“We’re trying to get ahead of that so we know (Sunday) how many guys we have that are live, which is good,” he said.