Gonzalez, Rockies eye healthy 2015 to end skid

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Carlos Gonzalez was smiling, joking with teammates and pain-free on Saturday. The Rockies slugger is healthy after a rugged 2014 season that included knee surgery.

But how long will he and Colorado’s other injury-prone star, Troy Tulowitzki, stay on the field – or even together? And will the Rockies find a way to shore up baseball’s worst pitching staff?

Many questions greeted the Rockies as they held their first workout for pitchers and catchers Saturday morning, following four straight seasons with at least 88 losses.

”I’m excited,” Gonzalez said. ”I think it’s going to be a healthy year.”

That would be a welcome change. Since hitting .336 and winning the NL batting title in 2010, the three-time Gold Glove outfielder has been slowed by a variety of injuries.

In the past two seasons, Gonzalez played in 180 of a possible 324 games. He was shut down last August to undergo left knee surgery. That after a finger injury slowed him at the start of the year. He hit .238 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in 70 games.

Gonzalez, who showed up a week before position players have to report, has been hitting the past couple of days. He’s running only straight ahead, has yet to run the bases, and may not play in a spring training game until late March.

”Last year was, of course, difficult,” Gonzalez said. ”I was dealing with a lot of pain, a lot of injuries. But it’s part of life and part of sports. You’re going to have your down years. And sometimes when that happens, it’s a little extra motivation to get back to the player you were before.”

That same applies to Tulowitzki.

The four-time All-Star shortstop has missed 222 games over the past three seasons. He hit .340 last season, but it came in 71 games before he underwent season-ending hip surgery in July. Tulowitzki, who had yet to report, will also be limited in the spring.

It comes amid constant chatter that Gonzalez and Tulowitzki may not be long for Colorado if the team continues to struggle and decides to cut payroll. New general manager Jeff Bridich has listened to offers for Tulowitzki.

”It’s hard. But we’re here and we’re happy to get back to work,” Gonzalez said. ”We’re excited about the upcoming season. Hopefully, we can make it special for the organization and for us.”

The immediate attention for third-year manager Walt Weiss will be on pitching. Injuries decimated the staff last season and the Rockies had the highest ERA in baseball at 4.84.

Steve Foster replaced Jim Wright as pitching coach, and Weiss said Saturday much of what they’ll focus on is ”neck-up stuff. The ability to attack, command your game.”

Jhoulys Chacin, who has been plagued by shoulder pain and is entering a contract year, needs to stay healthy. Right-hander Kyle Kendrick, a sinkerballer with an effective changeup, joins the staff from Philadelphia.

”Gold Glove infield, I know that,” Kendrick said of a unit that includes Tulowitzki, two-time Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado and 2014 Gold Glove winner D.J LeMahieu at second.

”The outfield is fast. The defense is great. I’m happy to be on the other end of it now. If you keep the ball down, you get groundballs and you get outs.”

The Rockies upgraded their catching defense, signing free-agent Nick Hundley. That means Wilin Rosario will get work at first base after losing his arbitration hearing earlier this month. He’ll make $2.8 million this season.

”If they trade me or not, that’s on them,” Rosario said. ”The only thing I live to do is play baseball when I have the opportunity. Maybe it’s hard for other players, but not in my case.”

The same talk will surround Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, who need to return to their pre-injury form for Colorado to find any success in the difficult NL West.

”I have the most important thing now: health,” Gonzalez said. ”I feel like if I’m healthy on the field, I can do the things that everybody expects.”