A.J. Pierzynski

Chris O'Meara, Associated Press

Reusse: A.J. deserves to be All-Star catcher

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • June 26, 2012 - 3:44 PM

Mike Napoli will be the starting catcher for the American League in the All-Star Game. This will be a reward for his tremendous 2011 season in Texas, and the aggressive voting that has taken place among Rangers fans.

As of Monday, the Twins' Joe Mauer was running second and Baltimore's Matt Wieters third in the voting. Wieters has become the AL's best catcher and should be a cinch as one of the two backups.

Mauer would fill the need to have a Twins player on the roster. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is another candidate, with his strong power numbers in Boston.

Yet, if there's justice in the system, the third catcher will be A.J. Pierzynski, 35, and now in his 12th season as a big-league regular and headed for career highs in power numbers. He previously was an All-Star in 2006, winning the fans' runoff vote.

A.J. took 12 home runs and 41 RBI into Monday night's game at Target Field. His highs are 77 RBI for San Francisco in 2004 and 18 home runs for the White Sox in 2005.

Durability makes Pierzynski as worthy an All-Star as does this year's production. He has caught more than 1,000 innings in 10 consecutive seasons, and will soar past that threshold again in 2012.

Pierzynski filled the void the Twins had as the main catcher in 2001. Manager Tom Kelly did play veteran Tom Prince frequently, so Pierzynski had to settle for 902 innings caught as a rookie. He pushed aside Prince halfway through the 2002 season and has caught between 1,008 and 1,166 innings over the past decade.

Mauer was 21 when the Twins decided he was big-league-ready for 2004. They were able to get a nice ransom for A.J., sending him to San Francisco for pitchers Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser in November 2003.

Mauer has caught 1,000 innings twice -- putting him among the mass of catchers who fall well short of Pierzynski in being able to play through the beating that comes with the position. A.J. is the only current big-leaguer with 1,000 innings for 10 seasons.

The streak had a chance to end when A.J. suffered a broken wrist last Aug. 12. That put him on the disabled list for the first time, but he was back on Sept. 2 as the DH and on Sept. 3 as the catcher. He started 24 of the White Sox's final 28 as the catcher or DH and reached 1,008 innings caught.

Mark Gonzales covers the White Sox for the Chicago Tribune and said it has been a rite of spring to write a piece on Pierzynski's durability. A while back, A.J. mentioned his early days with the Twins and said:

"When I was brought up, I was told to stay out of the training room. I take pride in going out there every day.

"Sometimes, you see young guys spend a lot of time in the training room. We try to set a good example by saying, 'Hey, you can be out there every day. Find a way to get out there.' "

Pierzynski isn't alone in setting that example for the White Sox. Paul Konerko was drilled in the cheekbone by the Cubs' Jeff Samardzjia in mid-May and was back in the lineup two days later.

The White Sox picked up another well-noted "gamer'' Sunday, acquiring third baseman Kevin Youkilis from Boston. He has run into some debilitating injuries in recent times, but there's no question of the ferocity that Youkilis brings to a ballgame.

Chicago went into the 2011 season with a big payroll and the battle cry "We're All In.'' The Sox went 79-83, finished 16 games behind Detroit and traded manager Ozzie Guillen to the Miami Marlins.

Much ado was made when General Manager Kenny Williams uttered the word "rebuilding'' at the winter meetings. Kenny backed away quickly, the White Sox put together a starting rotation and they came to Target Field on Monday with a half-game lead in the mediocre Central.

Now that Williams has added Youkilis to this veteran collection, and with Pierzynski and Konerko setting the example for commitment, it might be foolish to bet against them.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM.

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