(Eds: Updates throughout. With AP Photos.)By STEPHEN HAWKINSAP Sports Writer
Troy Tulowitzki admittedly still has to get over the mental hurdle that everything will be OK after surgery on his left groin that shortened his 2012 season.
”I guess when you step out on the field and there’s no thoughts about it … right now, I’m still feeling things out, so I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent,” Tulowitzki said Monday, quickly adding that his leg does feel good.
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After hurting his groin in the second game last season, Tulowitzki managed to stay on the field until the end of May before going on the disabled list. He had surgery June 21 and had a brief rehabilitation assignment, but the talented shortstop never returned to the Rockies, who finished with a franchise-worst 98 losses.
”We need him on the field. There’s no doubt he’s a game-changer,” Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. ”We need him healthy.”
Before playing only 47 games last season, Tulowitzki was coming off a two-year stretch when he was an All-Star both seasons while also winning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.
With each drill and game that passes during spring training, Tulowitzki gains more confidence in the health of his leg.
”I’ve laid all the groundwork that I possibly can to prepare myself for the long season,” Tulowitzki said. ”Sometimes you can’t control it, but I know I’ve done everything I possibly can to have a successful year.”
Tulowitzki had a two-run single Monday in an exhibition game against Texas, and has three RBIs while going 2-for-4 in his two games.
He was involved in a defensive play in each of the three innings he played Monday. That included a nifty play when he ran forward to pick up a slow roller and threw out speedy Rangers center fielder Craig Gentry at first base.
Aside from staying healthy this season, Tulowitzki wants to get back to what he has already been: one of the league’s best shortstops.
”I think more than anything continue to gain my dominance back kind of. If I’m out there, that’s going to happen,” he said. ”So to re-establish myself as the best shortstop in the game and then to help the team win games, to get us back to the days where we were always in the wild-card talk, and get us back to playoff baseball.”
Tulowitzki, who is signed with the Rockies through 2020 with a club option for 2021, was part of the Rockies’ only World Series appearance in 2007, his first full season in the majors. He has been in the playoffs only one other time, one round two years later.
Last season was the most miserable, being hurt and unable to play while the team was losing.
”No doubt, anytime you have a losing season like that, it’s going to be tough, and then to have an injury on top of it, it’s tough to come to the field every single day and watch your team lose series after series,” Tulowitzki said. ”One thing you take from it is when you’re out there on the field, you value it much more than maybe than you did before an injury. The other thing is you’re still part of the team as much as it doesn’t seem like it.”
Rockies outfielder Eric Young Jr. said teammates know Tulowitzki wants to prove that nothing has changed in his game, and described it as exciting to see him back on the field.
”He’s a perennial MVP candidate. … When healthy, he’s the best shortstop in the game of baseball right now,” Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer said. ”It’s pretty relevant obviously to have him back. No team has a guy like him, so to be able to have him on your team is going to make you that much better.
”He’s smiling a little bit more obviously being healthy,” he said. ”But he’s the same guy.”