Officially, the Lexington Legends will have three representatives when the South Atlantic League All-Star Game takes place Tuesday at Lakewood, N.J.
Right-handed pitchers Christian Binford and Alec Mills are on the South Division roster, along with shortstop Raul Mondesi.
However, Mills is on the shelf, having injured his right elbow Wednesday when he threw to second base on a pickoff attempt.
Mills will make the trip to take part in all-star activities. Binford and Mondesi will be ready to play.
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Mondesi was added to the roster over the weekend. Late additions often happen as a result of injuries and promotions to previously chosen all-stars.
Speaking about Mills and Binford during last week's final homestand of the half-season, Manager Greg Buchanan said "obviously, they've been pitching great all year to make the all-star team. They're impressive. They throw strikes. And their stuff's good enough that when they throw strikes they're going to get guys out."
Mills made 15 relief appearances before joining the rotation for his last three games. Overall, he is 2-3 with six saves and a 1.59 ERA. Over 451⁄3 innings, he has struck out 47 and walked nine, with a 0.82 WHIP and a .172 opponent batting average.
"We used him in the back end of the bullpen when he's available," Buchanan said. "We liked his stuff so much that we decided to put him in a starting role."
A 2012 22nd-round draft pick out of Tennessee Martin, Mills says going from the bullpen to the rotation was not a difficult transition.
"It really was just a change of mindset. You can prepare your body a little better, but I don't think it's any different as in what pitches you can throw," he said. "You just change your mindset as to getting through the lineup a time or two with a few pitches and saving a few or putting them in your back pocket for later in the game."
Mills and Binford feature the same basic pitches — fastball, curveball, slider, changeup. Buchanan likes that both are aggressive with their fastballs, challenging hitters.
Pitching coach Jerry Nyman says what makes Mills so effective is "he's able to throw off-speed stuff in fastball counts. He has good command, and he has good stuff."
The 6-foot-4, 187-pounder is a good listener, Nyman says. That includes listening to himself.
"I'm not a big talker," Nyman said. "I tell the pitchers when they get here the best pitching coach they've got is going to look at them in the mirror tonight when they take a shower and go to bed. I haven't done much with him because I haven't had to.
"I had him last year in Idaho Falls, so we kind of have a base line. A pitch that I didn't even like has turned into one of his best pitches. If he'd listened to me last year, he wouldn't be throwing that slow curveball. And he's really making hitters look bad with it. So I haven't really done much with him. He's done it on his own and he's been great."
Binford, a 6-6, 217-pounder from Boynton Beach, Fla., came to the Royals organization as a 30th-round draft pick in 2011. Out of Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy, he passed on an opportunity to play for the University of Virginia.
He's coming off a Friday night game that was his first loss since April 25. Binford (4-3, 2.52) had won his last three decisions. Over 11 starts total, he has struck out 60 and walked 13, with a 1.10 WHIP over a team-leading 641⁄3 innings.
"Christian's slider has improved and his change-up is a grade better," Nyman said. "I had him last year in extended spring training, and his change-up at the time, I thought, was far below average. And now at times I think it's a plus change-up."
Binford also tries to stay a mental step ahead of the batters.
"I like to pitch opposite of the count. I want to keep hitters off-balance and not let them get a full swing at a fastball count," Binford said. "There's some days where you just can't throw a curveball or a slider for a strike, or a change-up, and you've just got to challenge them. Those are the days. Those are the days you've got to get through to make a good pitcher."
Mondesi is batting .254 with four homers, 33 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 60 games. He hit for the cycle on May 27.
At 17, he is rated by Baseball America as the fifth-best prospect in the Royals system. He shares the same first name as his father, a 13-year Major-Leaguer, and his brother Raul Jr., who plays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
And now he shares SAL All-Star honors with Mills and Binford.
Starling relieved to end slump before the break
The Lexington Legends’ Bubba Starling ended an 0-for-15 streak at the plate when he went 5-for-5 in the team’s first-half finale on Sunday in an 8-7 loss to the Asheville Tourists.
Starling, the Royals’ top prospect, had a double, four singles and an RBI.
“We didn’t get the win, but it was a solid day,” Starling told MiLB.com. “When guys are getting hits, it’s fun. This year I’ve not had more than two hits in a game, but I’m starting to put good swings on the ball. I hope to carry this into the All-Star break and hopefully have a good second half.”
Starling’s batting average improved to .213, the highest it has been since May 21. Starling has been held hitless in 27 of 60 games this year.
“My average has not been the best, but that’s what the second half is for,” Starling told MiLB.com. “Part of me thinks I’ve been late and that I’ve not been getting my foot down. Early in the season, I was too late and I was trying to do too much. I just tried to slow things down.”
Starling still has managed to hit seven home runs to go with eight doubles and 28 RBI in 59 games.