Rockies shortstop, recovering from hip surgery, wants to prove doubters wrong
By Thomas Harding
DENVER -- In a sense, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's offseason is not much different than winters past. He's been rehabbing an injury, this time a surgically repaired left hip labrum. But this offseason also is different.
"The trade talk was different for me," said Tulowitzki, who was at Coors Field for Saturday's Rockies Fest. "It was more intense than it ever had been in my career. That was something I had to deal with. As far as finding that chip, something that makes me go, which isn't that hard for me, that was very easy.
"I've heard that I'm injury-prone. I've heard that I'm getting older. I like it. That stuff fuels me. It makes my workouts better. It makes me want it that much more."
If it weren't for his frequent injuries, usually to leg muscles, it would be harder for Tulowitzki to find the slights to motivate him. Tulowitzki, 30, played in just 91 games last year. The performance was so spectacular -- .340, 21 home runs and 51 RBIs, a 1.035 OPS and (according to Baseball-Reference's Web site) a 5.4 WAR -- that MLB Network identified him as the top shortstop in the Majors. Imagine if the "if healthy" caveat didn't follow every glowing statement.
But Tulowitzki realizes he can't answer that sitting in a room or talking among fans at an offseason event.
"I just want to prove that I can do it," Tulowitzki said. "For so long, I've worked so hard to try to stay on the field. That's what keeps driving me -- to stay on the field, help this team win and try to solidify myself as the best player in the game. Since day one, you guys have all seen a guy who was committed to trying to be the best player. I don't think I've backed off from that just because I'm getting a little bit older."
Tulowitzki in recent years adopted pre- and postgame rituals of treatment, stretching and strengthening. Manager Walt Weiss has done his part by manipulating Tulowitzki's playing time in an attempt to keep from wearing him out. Yet, Tulowitzki didn't play after July 19.
But for years, Tulowitzki and the Rockies knew that his hip labrum was damaged. The area has been a problem since he suffered a torn left quadriceps tendon early in 2008. He had surgery to remove scar tissue from the left groin area in 2012, but he hoped to continue to play through the underlying labrum damage.
Did the surgery finally put an end to the problems?
Not even Tulowitzki knows.
"It's been a battle for me, no doubt," Tulowitzki said. "I do everything I possibly can to prepare for the season and make myself healthy. Hopefully, all these things are past me. I can move on and go out there and play 140, 160, however many games it is, I love to do that. I have every intention to. We'll see how it goes."
Tulowitzki is a key figure for a club that hasn't finished above .500 since 2010 and hasn't been to the postseason since 2009. If the strong lineup and exciting group of young position players -- but iffy pitching -- don't somehow mold into a contending club, changes no doubt are on the horizon. Tulowitzki and fellow All-Star talent Carlos Gonzalez, also coming off a year shortened after surgery (on his left knee) and dealing with a history of games missed because of injury, heard the whispers of possible trades for much of this winter. Another rough year could have them candidates to be moved at the non-waiver Trade Deadline -- if healthy, of course.
But by concentrating on being healthy and removing all the qualifiers from his standing in the game, Tulowitzki is fine with the uncertainty. Knowing the offseason isn't complete and the Rockies are trying to improve, he isn't even letting himself have the certainty that he won't be dealt even though it seems unlikely.
"In this game you never get relaxed," Tulowitzki said. "Anything can happen. I've heard a few people say, 'As soon as I thought that I was going to stay somewhere, that's when I got traded.' So I won't go there. Whatever they do, they do. Whatever happens, happens.
"I would love to be here and win here. It would mean that much more to me. But I'm not going to sit here and say, 'I'm definitely staying here.' Because I really don't know."