Jonathan Lucroy rides consistency to spot as NL All-Star starter

MILWAUKEE — It was six days before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and Jonathan Lucroy was receiving a well-deserved break from the starting lineup.

But the Milwaukee Brewers catcher stuck with his regular routine and arrived to work plenty early before his team faces the Philadelphia Phillies. As he jogged up the dugout steps at Miller Park to head to the outfield and shag fly balls during batting practice, he stopped in his tracks.

Lucroy heard teammate Yovani Gallardo talking about him, and he couldn’t help but give the pitcher some grief.

“Do you want me to lie about you or be honest?” Gallardo, with a smirk on his face, asked Lucroy.

“You can lie,” Lucroy quipped. “I appreciate it.”

Both players shared a laugh as Lucroy ran to right field.

It’s Lucroy’s infectious sense of humor that has made him a favorite in the Brewers clubhouse. But it’s the former Louisiana-Lafayette standout’s strong, consistent play in the first half of the season that earned him his first All-Star Game selection. And after an injury to St. Louis’ Yadier Molina, Lucroy will be in the starting lineup for the National League on Tuesday night in Minneapolis, batting eighth.

“It means a lot,” said Lucroy, who is in his fifth season with the Brewers. “Anytime you get to spend time with guys of that caliber and be able to go up there and be with the best players in the game, I think that’s something not a lot of people get to enjoy. I’m definitely going to try and take it all in.”

Lucroy has gradually made a name for himself since leaving the Ragin’ Cajuns program in 2007. But his first All-Star spot was still a welcome nod of recognition.

“I kind of expected I would be on there just from the way everybody was talking,” he said. “I was excited, but it one of those things you’ve got to keep in perspective.”

Lucroy is only the fourth Louisiana-Lafayette product to be selected for the All-Star Game, joining B.J. Ryan (2005, ’06), Ron Guidry (1978, ’79, ’82, ’83) and Alvin Dark (1951, ’52, ’54).

Lucroy, 28, flew under the radar at Umatilla (Florida) High School and didn’t receive a lot of college scholarship offers. Although he had a record-breaking career at UL-Lafayette, it never crossed his mind that he could become an All-Star.

“I think it was only a matter of time before he got that opportunity,” Gallardo said about his catcher making the All-Star team. “We were all very excited for him, and to have him achieve that this year that just kind of shows the guy he is.”

Lucroy has had his best season to date. At the All-Star break, he is third in the National League in batting at .315. (He was hitting .327 just four days before the end of the first half, but then he went 1-for-16.)

Lucroy is still leading all MLB catchers in average, hits (107), runs (45), doubles (32), slugging percentage (.494), on-base percentage (.385), on-base plus slugging (.879) and wins above replacement (4.1, as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com). He has nine home runs and 44 RBIs.

“It would have been a huge mistake if he wasn’t on that team,” Brewers pitcher Zach Duke said.

Lucroy, a third-round pick in 2007, had a breakout season in 2013, hitting .280 with 18 home runs (second in MLB for catchers) and 82 RBIs (first).

“I thought I had a chance last year to make it when it came time to talk about it,” he said. “I think I was leading all catchers in RBI at the break. Obviously, average is a big thing with that, so my average wasn’t there. It’s one of those things you can’t really control, so you don’t worry about it too much.”

Lucroy played for the United States in the World Baseball Classic in 2013 and carried over his success last season to this campaign. Consistency has been a major key.

“Last year was a little messed up with the WBC and the year before was messed up because he hurt his little finger, so he wasn’t able to work on some of the things he needed to in spring training,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “This year, he was able to do that, and I think that’s what we’re seeing is you get this really consistent catcher.”

Brewers pitchers love that Lucroy calls and manages a game well and is easy to throw to.

“He does a great job. He studies the hitters and puts his time in — that’s for sure,” Gallardo said. “He’s learned a lot from the first year he came up, and that’s what makes him so good. He keeps learning after every ballgame, and it’s only going to get better.”

Catchers who can consistently hit over .300 have become a rarity in professional baseball. Lucroy is a .286 career hitter who has pop in his bat — evident by his career 55 home runs and 99 doubles.

“You’ve got a lot of guys who can catch and play defense but they can’t hit,” said second baseman Rickie Weeks, the Southern product. “He’s the type of guy, he does all that — that’s always a plus.”

Lucroy’s career has come full circle. In his first professional at-bat May 21, 2010, he got a pinch-hit single off Minnesota Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Tuesday’s All-Star Game is at Target Field.

Lucroy’s mother attended his first career game, and now Lucroy can’t wait for his father to also watch him play at Target Field. Along with his parents, Lucroy’s wife, Sarah, and daughter, Ellia, will be in the crowd Tuesday.

Lucroy has talked with Brewers teammate Ryan Braun, who has played in five All-Star Games, about what the experience will be like, but it’s hard for any player to get the full spectrum until they have played in the game.

“With all the fans and the environment, it’s going to be pretty insane,” Lucroy said.

Lucroy was picked for the team in the player ballot, voted on by players, managers and coaches around MLB. The NL’s other catchers are Devin Mesoraco of the Cincinnati Reds and Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Roenicke is hoping Lucroy takes a lot of positives away from playing in his first All-Star Game.

“Probably more than anything the confidence of just knowing you’re one of the elite in the game,” Roenicke said. “I think it’s important when you work that hard as Luc does to be able to have other people see the same thing that we’re seeing here.”