NEW YORK -- When Troy Tulowitzki takes the field Thursday at shortstop for the Yankees on Opening Day, it will mark the rewarding conclusion to what has been a long journey for the five-time All-Star.
Thursday marks the 20-month mark since the last time Tulowitzki played in a Major League game, battling ankle and heal injuries that cost him the final two months of the 2017 season and all of last year. But a healthy, productive spring has the veteran excited for the next chapter in his career, one which will officially commence at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles.
"Mixed emotions; definitely more on the excited end, just because I have been through a lot in the last couple years," Tulowitzki said of his feelings 24 hours before the opener. "To battle back from that and get a chance to take the field on Opening Day, there's a lot of meaning to it."
Tulowitzki went deep in both his first and last games of Spring Training, posting a .970 OPS with four home runs in 33 plate appearances.
Manager Aaron Boone confirmed that Tulowitzki would indeed be at shortstop for Thursday's opener, and although it's uncertain what type of workload the Yankees will have for the 34-year-old, it's clear that Tulowitzki will figure prominently into the club's plans.
"This is a guy that you can tell baseball means the world to him; it's what he knows, what he's lived," Boone said. "The fact that he's healthy, I do think that he's eager to prove that he's got a lot left in the tank. I'll still be cautious with him. He's going to have his days off, especially here early, but I feel as he walks in that clubhouse today, he's in a good place, a good frame of mind and eager to go prove it to the world."
Tulowitzki was considered one of the best all-around players in the game during his prime years with the Rockies, but he struggled to stay healthy after being traded to the Blue Jays in the summer of 2015, missing 31 games in 2016 and 96 in 2017.
Even with those injury issues, Tulowitzki wasn't ready to call it a career. After being released by Toronto in December, he signed with the Yankees on Jan. 4, determined to make it back to the big leagues. Thursday, he'll do exactly that.
"I didn't know what to expect, but I wasn't going to quit fighting to get back to this point," Tulowitzki said. "That's just who I am and who I've always been. I didn't have much doubt, but I didn't know what I was up against, either."
Armed and ready
Masahiro Tanaka will make his fourth career Opening Day start on Thursday, and although he struggled to recall his emotions from his first season-opening assignment in 2015, the right-hander admitted that there's something that feels different about throwing the season's first pitch.
"The nerves, the tension, it's getting higher, I guess," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "You can just tell by now many people are in here in this room [for Wednesday's press conference]; a lot of eyes on this game. I'm very looking forward to it, but I'll just take it as a regular-season game and try not to do something out of the norm."
Tanaka, who suffered a partially torn UCL in his right elbow in July 2014, hasn't had any issues with his arm for some time, giving him the confidence that 2019 will be a healthy, productive season.
"It was completely out of my mind," Tanaka said. "The elbow is fine. I'm ready going into the season."
Lining 'em up
Boone didn't reveal his batting order for Opening Day, but the manager announced who would make up the Yankees' starting nine.
Greg Bird will start at first base, while Luke Voit will draw designated hitter duties. Gary Sanchez will be behind the plate, while Gleyber Torres will play second base, Tulowitzki will be at shortstop and Miguel Andujar will play third base. Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge will be in the outfield from left to right.
Absent from the starting lineup: DJ LeMahieu, the two-time All-Star second baseman who signed with the Yankees as a super-utility jack of all trades.
"I anticipate him playing most of these days, even the first several," Boone said. "He'll be in there for Game 2 and probably a few after that as I look out a few days ahead. I think he's going to be regularly in the lineup; I told him that again today. I think he understands that one guy has to sit. It's Opening Day and that's all we have, so it looks like a guy is down, but I think he'll be a regular player for us -- even with everyone healthy."