Lost season has Tulo eager for redemption
Shortstop hopes to lead Rockies back into National League West mix
DENVER -- Much of the Rockies' task in 2013 will be making folks forget last year, when they set a club record with 98 losses. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who had to watch much of the mess from the dugout because of a left groin injury, is out to deliver some reminders.
Before the injury, which limited him to 47 games and led to surgery to remove scar tissue, Tulowitzki was a lead figure in the best-shortstop discussion. By returning to health, Tulowitzki can re-establish his place in the game -- and go a long way toward helping the Rockies return to respectability.
"The two years before, I won the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove," Tulowitzki said. "After what happened last year, you're always hungry. You want to win those again. But to win for our team is more important. It's important to just go out again and be with those guys, go through the journey, whether it's good or bad."
The Rockies have taken a step back since Tulowitzki signed a $157.5 million extension to keep him in Denver through 2020, but those are the words of a man who is in it for the long haul, good times and bad.
When Tulowitzki and the Rockies put pen to paper on the largest deal in club history after the 2010 season, the shortstop was coming off a big year and Colorado contended in the National League West until the final weeks of the season. Tulowitzki had been to the playoffs as a rookie in '07 and again in '09, and had a reasonable expectation that he and the club would continue their ascent.
It's been a long two years since. Tulowitzki earned his second straight All-Star nod in 2011, but the Rockies went 77-85. It was the fourth time in five seasons that he finished in the top five in the NL in defensive wins above replacement (he led the NL with a 3.8 defensive WAR 2007), and his WAR was eighth in the NL overall. Last year was a lost season for Tulowitzki and the team.
But Tulowitzki, 28, who trains in Las Vegas during the offseason, reports feeling much better now, and he admits being eager to test his health.
Tulowitzki wanted to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, but teams are discouraged from choosing players who are coming off significant injuries, so he was left off the provision roster. That was good news for some Rockies fans, who felt Tulowitzki would be risking the team's chances by playing in such a high-level event during Spring Training.
"I've put in a lot of work this offseason to get ready; now it's just about playing the game," Tulowitzki said. "The first time I get out there on the field, it's going to be huge for me to get into a game and gain some confidence."
Last year was a mess from the start. Tulowitzki, a big shortstop at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, has had some troublesome leg-muscle injuries. He sustained a strained groin in the first series of 2012. He stayed quiet about it through an uncharacteristic run of throwing errors early in the year and a slow start at the plate.
"I was restricted, and I'd hide a lot of the pain I was feeling, which is why I had some difficulty throwing," Tulowitzki said. "A lot of people noticed what was going on, that I wasn't right, but I wasn't going to say anything. I wanted to do what the team needed me to do."
A painful series against the Astros in late May ended his season. He was noticeably dinged up after diving for a ground ball during the first game of a May 30 doubleheader but played both games. The next night, he felt sharp pain in his groin while running to first base on a grounder, and that was that. After rehabbing, Tulowitzki quickly cut short a tuneup assignment in the Minor Leagues when he felt pain again. He visited sports hernia specialist Dr. Bill Meyers, who discovered scar tissue.
After a few more Minor League rehab games, Tulowitzki opted against returning, and Meyers conducted surgery in June to remove the scar tissue.
The burden of 2012 didn't end there for Tulowitzki and the Rockies. Some analysts were openly pushing for the Rockies to deal Tulowitzki for multiple players, especially pitchers. The belief was that several talented players could do more for the Rockies than one supremely talented shortstop.
At no point did the rumors develop into serious trade discussions, but they stung.
"I'm fully committed to the team, and it was a weird thing -- the first time I had ever had any trade rumors," Tulowitzki said. "Any normal person is going to start to think, 'What if this? What if that?' But I can't control those things. Whatever happens, happens, but I definitely want to stay.
"My first couple of years in the league, we were so good. Now, to look at how we have struggled here lately, I didn't expect that. But that's the hand we were dealt. Now we'll see how we deal with it."
Tulowitzki returns to a team that has a new manager in Walt Weiss, and several new coaches. However, with few personnel changes, the Rockies are expecting the numerous players who dealt with injuries to return to form, and several young players who had their moments last season to take the next step.
"That's what I like about Spring Training," Tulowitzki said, "no matter how the team did last year, if guys gel and the right people step up, and the good players stay healthy, you always have a chance."
Weiss could be a boon to Tulowitzki's career.
Growing up in Sunnyvale, Calif., Tulowitzki was a young Athletics fan when Weiss played for the team in the 1980s and early '90s. Tulowitzki saw a physical shortstop who played all-out, yet knew how to keep himself healthy through a long season. Weiss also experienced the difficult task of playing for the Rockies in the unique, mile-high atmosphere.
"He's been through a lot in his career, similar to me," Tulowitzki said, "and he can hopefully relay some of that to me. How to change as you get older."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.