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Updated: July 10, 2014 8:48PM
CINCINNATI — When Anthony Rizzo nabbed the National League’s final All-Star spot Thursday to join teammate Starlin Castro on the team, it underscored the Cubs’ highest priority at the major-league level entering 2014: bounce-back seasons for the two 24-year-olds with seven-year contracts.
The only thing missing was a homegrown centerpiece on the pitching staff earning All-Star recognition. That was missing only because right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who also made the team, was traded six days earlier.
For now, the Cubs are feeling like early winners about their $101 million investment in the long-term deals for Rizzo and Castro.
Even Rizzo seems to recognize the significance of the honor for the Cubs’ bigger picture.
‘‘I think it’s good for the kids in the minor leagues to see young kids in the big leagues and not think they’re that far away,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘As far as the organization, I think it’s great. The more All-Stars you have, the better off you are. So we just want to keep continuing to get better.’’
Manager Rick Renteria called it a ‘‘tremendous feat’’ for the pair.
‘‘They’re setting themselves apart,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re doing things that are obviously impacting people that notice what they do.’’
The three-city, 11-day trip that concluded with a 6-4, 12-inning victory against the Reds was one of the longest, most grueling treks in recent memory for the Cubs. It included two rain delays, a doubleheader, a four-game winning streak, a blockbuster trade and a six-game losing streak before culminating with a benches-clearing incident and an extra-inning victory.
Along the way, three players made their major-league debuts, including right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who overcame a three-run first inning to pitch six innings Thursday; three others were announced as All-Stars; and Renteria drew his fifth ejection of the season.