Rockies have eye toward future in resting Tulo
Nursing left groin pain, star shortstop may return to action on Wednesday
DENVER -- Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies are not worried, even though left groin discomfort forced the star shortstop out of the starting lineup for the second time in four games on Tuesday night.
The hours leading up to the opener of the Rockies' three-game series with the Yankees were spent trying to reassure those around the franchise that Tulowitzki's groin issue can be managed and won't set the team back the way it did last season.
Tulowitzki was available to pinch-hit on Tuesday, and the Rockies said at least there is no fear he would have to be placed on the disabled list.
Tulowitzki believes he sustained the strain when he jammed his foot into the first-base bag on Wednesday at Los Angeles. He sat out Friday's series opener against the Rays and played on Saturday and Sunday, at times clearly protecting his left leg. An MRI exam taken on Monday revealed inflammation and a slight strain in the groin, but not in the same area where Tulowitzki underwent season-ending surgery to have scar tissue removed last year.
"I knew it wasn't something major," said Tulowitzki, who ran on the field on Tuesday afternoon. "I've faced some major things in my career, and I knew it was nothing like that.
"I just felt sore, went out there and wanted to play smart and not do anything crazy. You guys saw me move around out there. I was definitely taking it easy, being smart. I'm just happy to know exactly what it is. Now that I know exactly what it is, the treatment can get better and we know exactly where to focus."
Still, a history of leg muscle injuries -- a torn quadriceps tendon that cost him 47 games in 2008, a groin issue that cost him time at midseason in '10 and last year's injury, which limited him to 47 games -- gives fans reason to pause, and the Rockies reason to be cautious.
Tulowitzki is a Type-A personality who would love to force his way into the lineup as often as possible, but manager Walt Weiss and head athletic trainer Keith Dugger have made it clear they will sit Tulowitzki with the idea of keeping him available for the long haul.
Dugger said the news was mostly positive. The area of the inflammation is not where last year's surgery took place, and the Rockies don't detect the muscle imbalances that led to last year's injury. Beyond that, a check of ligaments around the pelvis revealed none of the damage that could occur with groin problems.
Treatment includes ice, modalities and massage, but Dugger said rest is the key, which is a problem with games scheduled almost every day. Tuesday began a stretch of 16 straight days with a game for the Rockies, but Dugger said he will do all he can to have Tulowitzki available on Wednesday, though there are no guarantees.
"We knew that coming into Spring Training," Weiss said. "We talked about giving him breaks and giving him days here and there, and trying to pick spots to get him off his feet. It's flared up a little bit, so he's getting a few more days than normal.
"But the key is to keep him out there for the long haul. We can't miss chunks of time with him if we're going to be serious about competing for the division, so a day here, a day there we can live with."
When Tulowitzki has been healthy, he has been effective. He is batting .348 with seven home runs and a team-leading 28 RBIs.
Tulowitzki has piped down some of his physical intensity during games and worked on a muscle management program in an effort to prevent injury. However, he missed two games last week with a left shoulder strain, and that may have occurred because he was trying to protect his legs on a slide into the plate in Arizona on April 28. But for the most part, Tulowitzki said that modifying his style for health reasons has worked.
"If anything, it's helped my play," Tulowitzki said. "You can't go crazy out there. You've got to play under control. When you're playing this game under control, you're a better player. That's why I got off to a hot start. I've done everything to prepare, playing under control, and I'm good to go."
Fair or not, each flare-up will raise questions about whether Tulowitzki, listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, can continue to play shortstop at his size. Of course, he won National League Rawlings Gold Glove and Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Awards in 2010 and '11 and statistically has been the best two-way player at his position for several seasons -- when healthy.
Only Tulowitzki's first injury, in 2008, occurred while he was playing the field. The others have been on the bases or when charging out of the batter's box.
"Defensively is not where it's giving me trouble," Tulowitzki said. "It's running the bases. Short, quick steps -- I feel great. No matter what position anybody wants to put me at, I have to run the bases.
"At shortstop, I think I'm doing a good job out there of fielding my position and being one of the better guys defensively. When that time comes, we can talk about it. But for right now, defensively, this is probably the best I've ever felt out there."
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.