Eight months after winning his first Gold Glove, Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte added another prestigious honor Sunday when he was named a National League All-Star for the first time. He was the only Atlanta player selected to play in the July 11 All-Star game in Miami.
“I was surprised, I really wasn’t expecting that, never thought about it the whole time,” said Inciarte, who found out Sunday morning, then got three hits and a game-saving catch in a 12-inning win at Oakland. “Because to be honest, you don’t see us getting a lot of attention. I really appreciate the fans and players, whoever voted for me, because it’s a really big honor for me to represent my name, my family and the Braves.
“I can’t express with words how happy I am for this opportunity.”
Inciarte has hit .307 with 21 extra-base hits (six home runs), 32 RBIs, a .353 on-base percentage and 11 stolen bases in 81 games. The Venezuelan native and leadoff man ranked third in the major leagues with 103 hits before Sunday and led the majors with 203 hits since the 2016 All-Star break.
He has played every game this season, started all but one of them and was tied for the major league lead with 370 plate appearances before Sunday.
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“That was a great play right there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Inciarte’s sliding catch in shallow center with bases loaded in the 11th inning. “He closed on that ball unbelievable. That’s why he’s wearing the gold. All-Star now, too. Happy, proud for him. What a great opportunity for him to go showcase his skills and experience that, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Inciarte, 26, got off to a sluggish start in his fourth season and second with the Braves, hitting just .207 with a .242 on-base percentage and .621 OPS in the first 20 games through April 27. But then he heated up and has stayed that way, batting .336 with a .385 OBP and .792 OPS in the past 60 games before Sunday.
The Braves were 8-12 in those first 20 games when he struggled and before Sunday were 31-29 in the past 60 games with their leadoff man sparking the offense.
Inciarte made the All-Star team in his second season as a lineup regular at center field, after the Arizona Diamondbacks used him as a fourth outfielder for two seasons, moving him between all three outfield positions. Gold Glove and All-Star honors are heady stuff, and he knows it.
“That’s big. It’s good to have those things in my repertoire – I always wanted to say that word,” he said, laughing. “But yeah, I’m very happy, man. I’m still in shock. I’m very proud for what’s going on. Hopefully this is not going to be the (last) time. But I know a lot of people are happy for me.”
The speedy left-handed hitter was traded to the Braves along with shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson and pitching prospect Aaron Blair in a 2015 Winter Meetings blockbuster deal for pitcher Shelby Miller, which has proved to be one of baseball’s most lopsided trades in recent memory in favor of the Braves.
It’s the third consecutive season the Braves have had the minimum one All-Star after having three All-Stars in 2014, three in 2013 and four in 2012, which was also the last year the Braves had an All-Star outfielder, Michael Bourn, who made the team along with Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel and Dan Uggla.
The Braves had five All-Stars in 2011 and six in 2010. Their only All-Stars the past two seasons were pitchers Julio Teheran in 2016 and Shelby Miller in 2015.
Before Inciarte, the last Braves position player All-Star was Freddie Freeman, who made the team in 2013 and again in 2014. Freeman was a virtual lock to make the team this season before fracturing his wrist May 17 when hit by a pitch. He hit .341 with a league-leading 14 homers and 1.209 OPS in 37 games before going on the disable list.
Freeman began a minor-league rehab assignment Friday and is expected to rejoin the Braves either during their series that starts Thursday at Washington or right after the All-Star break.
With Freeman out of the picture, left fielder Matt Kemp was the Braves’ top All-Star candidate before cooling off significantly in early June. After batting .352 with 10 homers, 30 RBIs and a whopping 1.001 OPS in 42 games through June 2, Kemp hit .211 with two homers, eight RBIs and .590 OPS in his past 25 games before Sunday.