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Will Brad Boxberger finally get his big chance in Cincinnati?

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If Brad Boxberger is called upon to make a relief appearance during tomorrow night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Cincinnati, he will achieve a number of goals. First and foremost, every young professional player dreams of playing in a World Series and the All-Star Game.

In addition to those goals, Boxberger imagined himself taking the mound at Great American Ballpark as a Cincinnati Red. The Fullerton, Calif., native and former USC Trojan was a first-round pick of the Reds in the June 2009 draft.

He did not stay with the Reds long enough to make their Major League roster. During the Winter Meetings of 2011, Boxberger was part of a package of four Reds traded to San Diego for right- handed starter Mat Latos.

While the other three Reds – Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Edinson Volquez – were featured prominently in the coverage, Boxberger was mentioned as a throw-in. In two years with the Padres, the hard-throwing right-hander appeared in 42 games with an earned run average around 2.70.

When the Rays made a big trade on January 22, 2014, Boxberger was mentioned prominently. Boxberger and Logan Forsythe, another former first-round draft choice, have made an impact since coming over from the Padres.

Few expected the Rays to be a contender for the American League East title at the All-Star break, but they sit in second place. Fewer would have predicted Boxberger would not only become the Rays’ closer, but be tied for third in the American League with his 23 saves.

Jake McGee finished 2014 as the Rays’ closer with highly respectable numbers. The team was counting upon him to build upon that success.

When McGee started the season on the disabled list, Boxberger was given his chance. With McGee’s injury, a perceived weakness became a strength as Boxberger grasped the closer’s role with both hands.

It is often said that a player does not, or should not, lose his place due to an injury, but it happened in this case. Despite McGee’s return to the Rays’ bullpen, Boxberger has remained the closer.

After a recent rough patch, perhaps Boxberger was a blown save or two away from losing the closer’s job. The walk-off grand slam in Kansas City is still a painful memory. McGee has pitched well since his return, striking out 29 and walking only two in 19 2/3 innings.

But Boxberger saved all three games during the weekend sweep of the Houston Astros. His secret was relying more on his fastball instead of trying to trick batters with off-speed pitches.

“It was more of me getting back to who I am and being able to execute,” he said after Sunday’s game.

Boxberger was selected by All-Star Manager Ned Yost of Kansas City because of his 2015 success as a power pitcher. In 36 innings of work, he has fanned 48 hitters and the opposition has a measly .218 batting average against him. His 23 saves rank third in the American League.

In 2014 while serving in a set-up role for McGee, he struck out 104 batters in only 64 innings. That is almost in the league of the Reds’ Aroldis (the Cuban Missile) Chapman, who will almost certainly pitch an inning before the home fans.

Boxberger has arrived in Cincinnati looking like the All-Star that he is. Should he get into the game, it won’t be his first appearance at Great American Ballpark.

He appeared in one game for the Padres in Cincinnati in 2012. The Rays played three games in Cincinnati early last season while Boxberger was still pitching in Triple-A Durham.

On the day he was drafted, Boxberger likely envisioned himself one day being on the mound in Cincinnati in front of a packed house and national television audience. Good for him if he finally gets that chance on Tuesday.

If not, he can join the rest of the Rays’ fans and hope Chris Archer gets the call. But a Boxberger appearance would be a great story.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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