Cecil, Delabar take unlikely paths to All-Star Game
Blue Jays relievers have found groove after years spent in and out of Majors
NEW YORK -- Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar didn't seem like future All-Stars three years ago. Cecil was a starting pitcher struggling to keep his ERA below 4.25, and Delabar was spending his days as a substitute teacher in Kentucky.
Now, the duo is helping to anchor the back end of the Blue Jays' bullpen. They've both put their past struggles -- and a teaching career -- behind them, and they've played integral roles for a relief corps whose 2.90 ERA this season is the third-best mark in the Major Leagues.
On Tuesday, Cecil and Delabar will have a chance to pitch on a stage they never thought they would reach: the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field.
"I never envisioned an All-Star Game, especially after the couple of years that I had," Cecil said. "So it makes it even more of a blessing and an honor to be here."
Cecil's appearance at the Midsummer Classic comes during a season in which he wasn't even guaranteed a spot on the Blue Jays' roster. The left-hander had to earn a job during Spring Training and wasn't informed he was heading north until one of the final days during camp.
But after posting an underwhelming 4.79 ERA as a starter over the first four years of his career, Cecil has excelled in his first extended look as a reliever. He's allowed just 10 runs in 46 1/3 innings this season, posting a 1.94 ERA with 55 strikeouts.
"If you don't have confidence, you don't have anything," Cecil said. "I knew my stuff was good, but giving up hits, blowing a save -- little things just start creeping back in your head. Bad things. It's just how you deal with that kind of stuff."
Cecil has figured out how to deal with bad outings this year, and his success has made him one of the elite left-handed relievers in the league. He set a franchise record earlier this year by going through 40 at-bats without surrendering a hit, and he also went through a span of 20 innings without allowing a run.
"Don't get too high, don't get too low in your performances. Short memory," Cecil said. "That's been my motto this year."
Delabar took a much different path to his first All-Star appearance. The right-hander spent six years in the Minor Leagues before fracturing his elbow in 2009 and leaving the game of baseball entirely.
Serving as a substitute teacher and assistant baseball coach at John Hardin (Ky.) High School, Delabar used a weighted-ball workout program to regain velocity on his fastball and eventually decided to attempt a comeback at the age of 28. He was signed by the Mariners and went through all three levels of the Minors before making his Major League debut -- all of which happened in one calendar year.
Delabar was traded to the Blue Jays in July 2012 and has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball ever since. So far this season, he is 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 42 innings, a mark that ranks third among American League relievers.
Delabar earned his spot on the All-Star team by winning the Final Vote, beating out four other AL relievers.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling. Growing up, you see all the names of the players that come to these events. You envision yourself doing something like that down the road, you think, 'I'm going to be a Major Leaguer and I'm going to play in their shoes and all that,'" Delabar said. "But then to come here and actually be a part of it is something special."
Their All-Star experience has barely begun, but Cecil and Delabar have been enjoying their time in New York. Both will be on the field with their families on Monday for the Chevrolet Home Run Derby, and they might both be on the mound on Tuesday.
"I don't want to put it way up on some pedestal, but it's really, really cool to be a part of this," Delabar said. "Most of the guys here on the scouting report are the guys we want to stay away from. But now we want to get close to them, meet them, get some type of bond with the guys here and have a good time."
"It's been fantastic, and we haven't even done anything yet," Cecil said. "On the bus ride here is when it really hit me that, 'You're sitting on a bus with a bunch of All-Stars, and you've been very blessed to be named one of them.'"
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.