Reds starter Sonny Gray pitches against the Cubs on Friday, June 28, 2019, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Reds starter Sonny Gray on being added to All-Star game: ‘I can’t wait’

This time, he’s going to Cleveland representing Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati right-hander learned on Saturday night from manager David Bell and President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams that he’d been named to the National League team for Tuesday’s game. Gray, 29, is replacing Washington’s Max Scherzer, who threw 103 pitches on Saturday.

“David called me last night with Dick on the phone,” Gray said Sunday morning. “I was extremely excited and just the thoughts of needing to leave (Monday), I had so many different thoughts and emotions going all in my head. It was a cool feeling, for sure. It was very, very, very exciting.”

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Bell enjoyed delivering the news as much as Gray savored hearing it.

“Those are the fun things,” Bell said. “He was very excited. He had planned to do something else. It was a welcome change of plans for him. When you hear it from someone else’s voice, you remember how much it means to be recognized as one of the best players in the game.

“He deserves it. I figured he’d be excited, but it was fun hearing it in his voice.”

Gray was named to the American League team for the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, but he didn’t pitch. He is 5-5 with a 3.59 earned-run average in 17 starts for Cincinnati.

“It’s been a crazy times in the past and everything,” said Gray, acquired from the Yankees in a January multi-player trade and signed by the Reds to a three-year contract extension. “It’s something that I’m excited about and glad to get the opportunity. There are a lot of guys I feel are deserving, and I feel like are kind of getting an All-Star selection, and to be chosen, especially to be chosen the day before and go in and then pitch in the game, it’s very neat. I’m just very honored to be able to go back. I can’t wait.”

Gray will join right-hander Luis Castillo in Cleveland, giving the Reds two All-Star pitchers for the first time since Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon all were selected in 2014.

“We know what we have in him, whether he was on the All-Star team or not,” Bell said. “It’s nice when you get rewarded. We talk about how good our pitching has been. He’s been a big part of that. We have one of the top staffs in the game. It is nice when you get a couple guys recognized for that.”

Heating up: For 2 1/2 months, Yasiel Puig was the poster boy for Cincinnati’s offensive struggles. Now, he’s hoping to symbolize a resurgent attack.

The Reds right fielder went into Sunday’s game with 20 home runs, including nine in his last 19 games since June 15 while raising his batting average from .223 to .253.

“This is the best first half of my career,” said Puig, who was tied with Eugenio Suarez for the team lead in home runs and trailed the third baseman by three in runs batted in with 51. “I never hit 20 home runs before in any season before the All-Star break.”

Puig, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers as a part of December multi-player trade, finished last season with 23 home runs, five fewer than the career-high 28 he piled up in 2017.

Puig followed his first-inning, two-run homer on Saturday with a vicious line drive that banged off the top of the center field fence and impressed Bell.

“The home run was great and everything, but that ball he hit off the center-field wall was one of the hardest…,” Bell said before asking what the exit velocity was on the double. Told that it was 110 miles per hour, he said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that much of a line drive have a chance to get out like that to center field.”

Over each of the past three seasons, Puig has been better after the All-Star break. In 2018 he went from a .265 average to .270. The previous year, he hit .251 in the first half and .278 in the second half. He finished the first half of 2016 at .256 and bumped it to.284 in the second half.

“Knowing how much he wants to win as we play in these important games, hopefully, all the way through, I think that brings out the best in who he is as a player,” Bell said. “It’s great to see. He’s a big part of our offense. He’s coming on strong, and he’s been a better player in the second half of the season throughout his career.”

“When I go up, I try not to do too much, keep it simple and that’s working for the moment,” Puig said. “I am going to practice with my teammates and have a better second half.”

Game time: Left-hander Alex Wood threw 31 pitches in 1 1/3 innings on Saturday for Triple-A Louisville at Columbus in his first rehabilitation start as he continues trying to come back from lower back problems that have kept him sidelined for the entire season. Wood allowed two hits and one earned run with a walk and two strikeouts in a 7-2 Columbus win.

Wood’s next step hasn’t been decided, Bell said.

Break time: Sunday’s games were the last before Major League Baseball takes its annual midsummer All-Star Game break. The Reds are scheduled to return to action on Friday with the opener of a three-game series against the Rockies in Denver, followed by three games against the Cubs in Chicago.

Cincinnati returns home on July 18 for the first of a four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

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