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All-Star Tulowitzki leaves game with left leg cramp

Oft-injured shortstop felt pain running to first base, doesn't believe injury is serious @harding_at_mlb

PITTSBURGH -- A Rockies team that has seen far too many of its top players leave the field injured was left holding its breath Saturday night, after All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki left with a cramp in his left thigh after grounding out to end the fourth inning against the Pirates.

The Rockies' official announcement called it "a cramp in the tensor fasciae latae of his left thigh." The tensor fasciae latae is tissue on the outside of the hip. It's an injury common among runners, and is often treated with rest, strengthening, stretching and massage therapy.

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Tulowitzki, replaced by Josh Rutledge in Saturday's 3-2 loss in 11 innings, didn't believe the injury was serious.

"I felt it grab when I was going down the line," Tulowitzki said. "There wasn't a lot of pain but there was enough that I thought I should come out of the game to be safe."

Asked if it was more than a cramp, Tulowitzki said, "I don't think so. I guess I'll know for sure when I wake in the morning."

Any time Tulowitzki leaves the field with a leg injury, however, his injury history sparks fear. For now, according to head athletic trainer Keith Dugger, the handling of the injury is precautionary.

"It scared him," Dugger said. "He felt it. But he's showing good strength. He's a little sore."

Tulowitzki, 29, is having a season that would have him in prime National League Most Valuable Player contention if not for the Rockies' being well-under .500 (40-57). He entered Saturday leading the NL in batting (.340 after going 0-for-2 Saturday), on-base percentage, on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (or OPS), and was third in slugging and eighth in total bases (340).

Playing it safe has become the norm with Tulowitzki, given what he means to the Rockies.

Tulowitzki left a June 13 game at San Francisco when he suffered pain in his right middle toe while coming out of the batter's box. He made a pinch-hit at-bat the next day and returned to the lineup the following day, and said he and the Rockies took the safe route because he hadn't experienced the injury before. He has dealt with soreness since, but now that he knows what it is, he can manage it.

Injuries, especially muscle injuries to his legs, have been a major source of concern for Tulowitzki and the Rockies. He played 151 games in 2009, the last time the club went to the playoffs. Since then, his high-water mark is 143 games in 2011. In 2008, Tulowitzki suffered a left quadriceps tendon tear and a right hand laceration, and was limited to 101 games. Tulowitzki missed time near midseason in 2010 with a fractured wrist when he was hit with a pitch. He also was limited to 47 games in 2012 with a right groin injury that required surgery, and last year was out for nearly a month with a broken rib on the right side.

This year, with the Rockies pinning a large percentage of their hopes on his availability, Tulowitzki has played in 91 of the team's 97 games through Saturday. Already in need of a sudden and major turnaround, the Rockies can't afford a major time-loss injury to Tulowitzki.

The problem this season is the Rockies have fallen apart around Tulowitzki because of injury.

Defending NL batting champ Michael Cuddyer has missed 35 games and counting with a left shoulder fracture, and he missed 25 earlier with a left hamstring strain. Only recently have third baseman Nolan Arenado (fractured left middle finger) and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (benign tumor in left index finger) returned to the lineup.

That's to say nothing of the pitching injuries. Righty Tyler Chatwood is scheduled for season-ending Tommy John surgery this week, and righty Jhoulys Chacin also is not expected back because of a right rotator cuff strain. Righty Jordan Lyles broke his left hand and isn't due back until early August. Replacement pitchers also were hurt. At one point, six starting rotation members were on the disabled list.

Additionally, fellow All-Star Charlie Blackmon rolled his left ankle while lining out at the end of the top of the 11th and was taken for X-rays after the game. Results were not immediately available.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.

Colorado Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki