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Kodai Senga named to NL All-Star team replacing former Met Marcus Stroman

SAN DIEGO — The ghost fork is heading to Seattle.

Mets right-hander Kodai Senga was named to the NL All-Star team Saturday afternoon, taking the place of Chicago Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman. The former Mets starter and Long Island native pulled out of the All-Star Game to rest.

Senga received a call from his agent, Joel Wolfe, Saturday in San Diego. It was not news he was expecting to hear.

“First of all, very surprised, but it’s an honor to be selected,” he said Saturday afternoon at Petco Park before the Mets faced the Padres in the second game of a three-game series. “I wasn’t initially selected and I didn’t really think anything of it. So it caught me by surprise.”

Though it hasn’t been easy, the 30-year-old Senga has not disappointed in the first year of a five-year contract. The rookie has had to make plenty of adjustments since coming over from Japan, he’s been the most reliable starter for the Mets during a season in which they haven’t been able to rely on starting pitching. Senga has a 1.7 bWAR and is 7-5 with a 3.51 ERA in 16 starts. He’s striking out nearly 12 batters per nine innings, thanks in large part to his deadly put-away pitch.

“We’re excited for him. We know how much it means to him and it means a lot to us,” said manager Buck Showalter. “He’s pretty excited about it but he’s trying to be respectful about it as he always is.”

However, Senga has acknowledged some of his shortcomings. His ball-to-strike ratio is often 50-50, which has led to a high amount of walks, something he was initially confused by but then came to understand how to better repeat his delivery.

“Reflecting back, I know I’ve been a little bit inconsistent doing my job as a starter,” Senga said. “I’ve had a lot of walks and guys on base. Going into the second half, that’s what I want to improve.”

Senga was getting hit early on as he fell into a predictable sequencing pattern. Some hitters learned to lay off the forkball, knowing he wasn’t always going to throw it in the zone. But Senga learned how to better utilize his other pitches to set up the forkball, and it’s been effective. Hitters have had only a .126 average with it.

Coming off of his best stretch of the season, Senga has limited opponents to only five runs over his last three starts (18 1/3 innings). Earlier this week in Arizona, he went eight innings for the first time, holding the Arizona Diamondbacks to only one run while striking out 12 hitters to tie his career-best mark.

He’s become more and more comfortable with the increased amount of travel and the longer distances MLB teams have to travel throughout a season, as well as more comfortable with the ball and the mound. A few weeks ago, Showalter had a few baseballs used in the Nippon Professional League in his office. He noticed that when Senga gripped it, he used his left hand instead of his pitching hand. The reason being that he didn’t want to lose his feel for the MLB ball when he had finally mastered it.

“Initially, it was definitely things like the environment and the atmosphere and the ball as well,” Senga said. “But as I pitched more and more, I got more used to it. I think things are looking good.”

He’ll join first baseman Pete Alonso next week at T-Mobile Park. It’s also a special moment for his translator, Hiro Fujiwara, who grew up in the Seattle area and attended the University of Washington.

This puts Senga in an elite group of Japanese players who have made the All-Star team as rookies. Only seven others have done it: Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, Kosuke Fukudome, Hediki Okajima, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo. He’s also only the fifth member of the Mets to go to the game as a rookie (Alonso, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver).

“I know that it’s a place where amazing players go,” he said. “To be selected onto a team like that it’s again, very surprising. I think once I get to Seattle I’ll have more emotions. But right now, I just want to prepare for the game and do my best.”

The only player he doesn’t want to face? Shohei Ohtani.

“If I could choose, I would choose not to face him,” Senga joked. “But I know the fans in Japan would love it and I know the fans over here would too. Whatever happens — if he gets a hit off of me or if I get him out — I just want to enjoy the moment.”

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Source: Berkshire mont

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