Busy day today. The players held their availabilities at a hotel near the ballpark, and now they're taking batting practice, with the interminable Home Run Derby to follow. With Nick Swisher participating in the Derby, I have to pay attention to it.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights from speaking to the players:

--Alex Rodriguez missed last year's All-Star Game, as you'll recall he sat out the season's first five weeks rehabilitating from hip surgery and also was dealing with his confession of having used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. He's here this year because his manager, Joe Girardi, is the American League manager and selected A-Rod. But if A-Rod isn't putting up a prime season, I'd hardly consider it criminal that he's here.

Since his return to action last year, which has included everything from health concerns about his long-term viability to postseason heroics to involvement in the Anthony Galea mess, A-Rod has been pretty good about sticking to a script. Only he knows whether it's sincere, yet he gets points for consistency. The script came into play today, too.

"There’s nothing about being here this year that I take for granted," he said. "Last year was such a challenging year. It started tough and it ended up pretty well. But obviously, health-wise, to be here and to be able to participate is great."

--It might feel like about nine years for A-Rod since he last played in the Midsummer Classic. For Andy Pettitte, it actually has been nine years. With all the talk of this being the "Year of the Young Pitcher," Pettitte stood out as an aberration.

"It’s definitely special, at my age now, to be able to put together a good first half for us," he said. "To be consistent. That’s what I’m most proud of, to be consistent for our team. Not that I thought I wouldn’t, but that’s what you want to do. Give us a chance to win every night that I take the mound."

A large reason for Pettitte's prolonged absence is that he's historically a better second-half pitcher. That's something to keep in mind when you hear chatter about a Hall of Fame candidate and people bring up his number of appearances in the All-Star Game. ASG appearances are an extremely poor measure for Cooperstown candidacy. Bert Blyleven is another guy who pitched better in the second half. He made just two All-Star teams.

--Derek Jeter is hitting second for the AL tomorrow night, and Carl Crawford is hitting ninth: Jeter: .274 BA/.340 OBP/.392 SLG. Crawford: .321/.380/.521. I didn't have the temerity to try JE's line on Joe Girardi - "Jeter second? Was Alex Cora unavailable?" although that got big laughs from the few baseball media folks to whom I delivered it.

Mr. Girardi? "I look at their careers, and I also look at this year, as well. The thing about Carl Crawford, with him at the bottom, you have basically two leadoff hitters (Ichiro Suzuki will lead off). And the lineup is probably the toughest thing to make out. We spend time talking about it, there were changes, there were additions, subtractions, and it's the hardest thing.

"But Derek Jeter has been to this All-Star Game many, many years in a row, and we just thought he deserved to be second."

Translation: "What, you think I'm going to hit Jeter eighth or ninth and then try to manage him the rest of the season?"

I don't blame Girardi. Reality is reality. And I don't think it's outrageous to suggest that Jeter has earned the right to hit second. I do think, however, it's interesting to see what factors come into play with this stuff.

--Jose Reyes is here, but he's essentially just going to hang out for a couple of days. The only thing he'll do today and tomorrow, he said, is get treatment. Then he'll take batting practice early Thursday in San Francisco, with the hope of being in the Mets' lineup that night against the Giants.

--Cliff Lee entertained only a small gathering at his table. It would've been a far larger gathering if he was still a Mariner. I asked Lee, having now been traded three times in a calendar year, if he was relieved to know that this odd run was over. After all, unless the Rangers trade him by July 31 (I'd bet against that), the next move he makes will be his call, during free agency this winter.

"It’s a little bit of a relief, knowing that, number one, it’s a good team and they’re in a good position to make the postseason," Lee said. "And to know that this should be the last time that I’m traded. We’ll see. Who knows? Really, the Rangers could trade me today if they wanted."

Again, probably not. Lee said that he spoke with his former Indians teammate CC Sabathia on Friday, when he appeared headed to the Yankees. Said Lee: I thought he might have some information or know something. They had asked him about me and stuff. We talked about the possibility of being teammates again. Stuff like that. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Now I’m a Ranger, and that’s perfectly fine."

--Girardi misspoke this morning, saying that Michael Young would replace the injured Adrian Beltre on the AL roster. For now, however, Beltre is still active.

--David Lennon has a Mets midseason report, and Erik Boland has a Yankees midseason report.

--I enjoyed this post by Joe Posnanski about picking All-Stars, which appears to have been sparked by Joe Girardi's odd comments about picking Paul Konerko over Kevin Youkilis. Thanks to JE for the heads-up.

--I also enjoyed this post by Tom Tango about the Year of the Pitcher. Thanks to NaOH for the link.

--I'll post a post-Derby update, for those of you who are interested.

UPDATE, 7:43 p.m. PST: Why did I agree to update? I don't know, but I'm a man of my word. David Ortiz won. See ya in the morning.




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