Tulo adds veteran savvy to All-Star tools
New-found discipline has made Rockies' star even more dangerous
DENVER -- Age is serving Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki well.
The more he's around, the more confident he gets as a hitter.
"It's come with maturity," said Tulowitzki, 29. "I don't feel the game is too big for me. When I was young, I was out of control at times, trying to do so many things. I feel like I am very under control right now.
"I know myself as a hitter."
And it shows.
The ultimate sign of the maturation of Tulowitzki as a hitter came in the first inning of the Rockies' 12-1 victory against Philadelphia at Coors Field on Friday night. He walked.
Yes, he would hit a three-run home run in the second. He would double home a run in the fourth. And he would single in a run in the sixth, and then he came out of the game, a triple shy of the cycle.
"I talked to him about it," said Rockies manager Walt Weiss. "He said, 'The chances of me hitting a triple are slim and none."'
All of that, however, was a byproduct of that first-inning plate appearance. Tulowitzki walked to the plate with runners on first and second and one out. He put together a career-longest 14-pitch plate appearances, fouling off eight consecutive 3-2 pitches from Phillies starter Jonathan Pettibune before taking ball four.
"That at-bat set up my day," said Tulowitzki. "I saw so many pitches I knew everything he had. He made good pitches I fouled off, and he made bad pitches I fouled off. That pitch I hit the home run off was similar to one I missed in the first."
It wasn't always that way for Tulowitzki. Oh, he's been a key player for the Rockies since he arrived in 2007, and he played a critical role in the club making its first World Series appearance that October.
The Rockies thought enough of him that after that rookie season they signed him to a six-year, $31 million contract, and three years later replaced the final three years of the initial deal with a 10-year, $153.5 million package.
He has been a two-time Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner, and a three-time All-Star, including being voted in the NL's starting lineup in 2011 and '12.
He, however, feels he can be even better.
"I now know how to slow down an at-bat, as opposed to when I was younger, which might be the difference in the number of pitches I see and walks I get," he said. "I've learned things from being around some outstanding hitters and seeing how they handle situations."
He spent his first seven-plus big league seasons as a teammate of Todd Helton, who retired at the end of last year. Tulowitzki was close to Matt Holliday his first two-plus seasons in the big leagues. And he lockered next to Jason Giambi, who joined the Rockies late in 2009 and spent the next three seasons in Colorado. From his outstanding peers, Tulowitzki learned the art of situational hitting and extending at-bats.
"When you are around hitters like that, you learn so much by asking questions, listening and watching," he said.
It's early, but Tulowitzki could be well on his way to a career year.
That is saying a lot.
He is, after all, a career .295 hitter. In four of the last five seasons, he has hit .295 or better with 25 or more home runs, and 82 or more RBIs. The one exception was when he was limited to 47 games in 2012 because of injuries.
It's early. Things can change in a hurry.
So far this year, however, he has shown a better awareness.
He has accepted the fact he will sit out an occasional game, and in blowouts, like Friday night, he will come out early, concessions to fight the injury bug that has plagued him in recent years.
More importantly, he has refined his approach at the plate.
Traditionally, April has been the most challenging month of his career. He came into this season hitting .260 in March/April with a .792 OPS, lower than any other month.
He woke up Saturday morning hitting .360, and thanks to the five-RBI effort on Friday -- the fifth game of five or more RBIs in his career -- he has 11 RBIs. He also had drawn 11 walks and struck out only seven times, a turnaround from a career in which prior to this year he had struck out 584 times and drawn 361 walks.
"I will always be myself," Tulowitzki said. "I'm fiery and competitive, but that doesn't team I haven't learn to slow the game down."
It's all a part of the aging process.