Injuries take toll on All-Star squads

Ouch!

Dustin Pedroia has a broken foot. Chase Utley needed thumb surgery. Manny Ramirez strained his hamstring.

Every time an ump yells “Play Ball” it seems another All-Star gets hurt. Especially if they’re in a Red Sox or Phillies uniform.

A rash of recent injuries around the majors has left disabled lists dotted with some of baseball’s biggest names: Victor Martinez, Jason Heyward, Troy Tulowitzki, Placido Polanco, Kendry Morales.

Plus, there are all those veteran stars who’ve been sidelined most (or all) of the season, guys like Carlos Beltran, Jimmy Rollins, Josh Beckett and Joe Nathan.

Leave out a few perennial studs with subpar numbers so far — Johan Santana, Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira — and the All-Star Game July 13 at Angel Stadium might just feel a little diluted.

When rosters are announced Sunday they could read like a rehab report, with scores of injury replacements to follow. But there should be plenty of worthy newcomers (David Price, Joey Votto, Ubaldo Jimenez) to go with old, familiar faces: Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Andy Pettitte.

And while the hottest All-Star debate lately has centered on whether 21-year-old pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg should be included after six big-league starts, more arguments are sure to follow.

Justin Morneau or Miguel Cabrera at first base for the American League? Rolen or David Wright at third in the NL?

“You have so many guys that are so close,” AL manager Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees said. “Their numbers are so equal that it makes it difficult, because someone’s always going to feel slighted.”

A handful of rules were tweaked this year.

For instance, any pitcher picked as an All-Star who starts on the Sunday before the game is ineligible to participate and will be replaced on the roster. That prevents managers from ending up in the predicament of having to use a rival team’s ace on short rest, say if the game goes to extra innings.

Nobody wants to jeopardize a player’s health.

Also, rosters were expanded to 34 spots, with the extra one going to a 21st position player in each league. Every club must have a representative, so choosing is still difficult.

“Someone has to get left off that definitely deserves to go,” said Philadelphia’s Charlie Manuel, who will manage the NL squad for the second consecutive year. “That’s the thing that I don’t like about it. You’ll always run into that.”

This season in particular, there seem to be more struggling teams than usual that lack a legitimate All-Star. They’ll all have at least one pick, though.

“It does hamstring your selections a little bit,” Girardi said. “But you know what? It is a league that’s made up of 30 teams and I believe that every team should be represented. I do. Because if you’re in a market and you don’t have a player on the club, you may not tune in. That just might be a fact. So I think it’s important.”

The league that wins gets home-field advantage in the World Series again, and the AL has refused to give it up. The junior circuit is 12-0-1 since the NL last won in 1996 at Philadelphia’s old Veterans Stadium, including seven straight victories. That’s the longest unbeaten streak in All-Star Game history.

“You can have all the fun you want, but it’s more fun if you win,” Manuel said.