Manager hopes injured shortstop will return with team still in contention
DENVER -- One day in Spring Training, first-year Rockies manager Walt Weiss wanted to make sure that the team that lost 98 games last year didn't see itself that way. He asked players to look around the room and see if they agreed with him that the Rockies had talent to compete.
But like last year during the heat of the season, the Rockies will not have star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in uniform. Tulowitzki, putting up National League Most Valuable Player Award-worthy numbers, suffered a fractured right rib on Thursday and will miss 4-6 weeks.
Last season, Tulowitkzi's right groin injury was worse. It ended his season in late May. The team dealt with other injuries, such as season-ending ones to outfielder Michael Cuddyer and first baseman Todd Helton. But that was then, and Weiss hasn't lost the belief that the Rockies can handle Tulowitzki's absence now.
"It's a big loss for us," Weiss said. "It's also an opportunity for a team to step up and do what we've done well all season -- that's respond to adversity. We're not going to make up that type of production, regardless who plays, but we can play as a team and still win games.
"We can be a factor in this race throughout the season. Hopefully, when we get Tulo back, it'll be almost like making a trade for an All-Star-type player down the stretch to win the pennant. That's how I'm looking at it."
The Rockies were already struggling when Tulowitzki was hurt last year. But they entered Friday night's game against the Phillies tied for second in the NL West with the Giants, 2 1/2 games behind the D-backs.
History says the Rockies will fall apart. Since Tulowitzki's debut on Aug. 30, 2006, they are 408-397 (.507) with him in the starting lineup. When Tulowitzki doesn't start, the Rockies' record is 118-148 (.444). Now, the club has to reverse the pattern.
"I don't think talent level has anything to do with thinking we're not going to fall apart," Helton said. "It's just a mindset. It's part of being professional, part of being grown men. Will some situations be harder? Yes. You've got to handle them.
"Nobody's season goes just the way it's planned. It's a tough break, but one we're going to have to handle and not expect one person to make up for his production."
Cuddyer, who missed five games recently with bruised ribs and has already gone on a disabled-list stint with a neck injury, will step into Tulowitzki's cleanup spot. Shortstop will be manned by a combination of Jonathan Herrera, DJ LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge, with Rutledge having been called up Friday from Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Before joining the Rockies last season, Cuddyer played for the Twins, who had a similarly talented -- but also similarly hard-luck -- player in Justin Morneau. Those Twins teams remained contenders despite Morneau's frequent injuries.
"You mourn his loss and feel sorry for him as a player, but the Phillies aren't going to stop playing just because Tulo can't play," Cuddyer said. "As harsh as it might sound and insensitive, I don't want it to sound that way. I feel for him. But you've got to plug away. You've got to keep going. You hold the fort down until he comes back, because he's going to come back.
"We've got all the talent in the world on this team. It's just a matter of everybody staying healthy. That's every team. Every team has injuries."
It wasn't in Weiss' best-case scenario to lose Tulowitzki, who was first in the NL in slugging at .635, second in batting at .347, third in home runs with 16 and fourth in RBIs with 51. However, contingency plans have been in place since Opening Day.
The team kept Reid Brignac (now with the Yankees) on its Opening Day roster because of his extended experience at short, and sent LeMahieu to Colorado Springs to play short. Herrera's experience at short made him a lock to make the team. When the team designated Brignac for assignment, it brought up LeMahieu. Rutledge worked exclusively at second all spring and started the season there for the Rockies, but when he was optioned, he played some short when other players needed time off.
Now the Rockies are in contingency-plan mode.
Weiss said he talked to a disappointed Tulowitzki after his diagnosis and tried to pick him up.
"It's tough on him," Weiss said. "He worked really hard this offseason. He works really hard every day to prepare himself to play. He hasn't strayed from his routine at all, and it's a tedious routine he goes through every single day. There's a lot of frustration that goes along with that.
"I just told him, 'Keep your mind right, because when you get back we're going to need to you lead us to a pennant.'"