Troy Tulowitzki is a shortstop who will never, ever sell himself short.
The 33-year-old Toronto Blue Jays veteran officially confirmed Sunday what had been painstakingly obvious: He won’t be back this season.
Tulowitzki had surgery to remove bone spurs on both his heels in early April. And that was after he missed the last half of last season with a severely sprained right ankle.
While strides have been made, there is no way his feet, right now, can take the day-to-day pounding that comes with playing the game at a high level. And so, given the late stage of this season and the Blue Jays' dreary state, Tulowitzki said it makes sense to set his sights on 2019.
“It’s been a tough year to say the least,” Tulowitzki said on Sunday at Rogers Centre, where he spent the weekend catching up with his teammates and taking a break from the drudgery of a time-consuming rehab.
“I went out to Florida, out there on those back fields almost every day trying to go,” he said. “It [his heels] just didn’t respond the way that I needed to come back and play every day. And I think where we’re at right now and what’s going on with some of these young players doing a great job, I definitely feel it’s important to them to gain some experience, gain some confidence and keep on helping us win games.
“For me, I think it’s important to get healthy and really know that I’m good to go for next year.”
The logic is sound, although it must be galling for the team that its US$20-million-a-year man isn’t healthy enough to play.
The bigger concern is that, if Tulowitzki is ready to go for the March 28 opening day, he will have missed roughly 1½ years of playing time. That’s an eternity for a professional athlete, especially one of Tulowitzki’s vintage.
Tulowitzki has heard all the whispers, that his body is brittle and that his skills, which once made him the game’s king of the shortstops, have eroded even when he has been able to play.
Tulowitzki said all that chatter motivates him.
“That’s going to be a great help, right?” he said. “Because usually good players that I’ve known, when they’re backed up against a wall, they answer. And you need things to motivate you and that’s going to be definitely motivation to hear those things said about me.
“And you use those things to fuel your fire a little bit and that’s what keeps you going.”
Tulowitzki said he had been impressed at the skills shown by some of the young Blue Jays this season, but he hates to refer to what is transpiring as a rebuild.
“I don’t believe in rebuilds, honestly,” he said. “I’ve been with a lot of really good teams, I’ve been with teams that weren’t so good. And you look around the league, there’s some good examples of some teams that are pretty young that win games.”
Tulowitzki is especially taken with Aledmys Diaz, the 28-year-old Cuban who has filled in admirably at shortstop. Diaz drove in three runs with a bases-clearing double in Saturday’s 8-6 comeback victory over Philadelphia, his batting average up to .258.
“The player I see on the field wasn’t the same guy who came to spring training,” Tulowitzki said.
But even while lauding Diaz and his potential, Tulowitzki said he is convinced he can play shortstop at a high level once he returns to health.
“I’m of the Cal Ripken mode,” he said. “Your positioning is very important. My experience out there I think proves you don’t have to be the quickest guy. It’s all about reads, it’s about knowing the game, it’s about baseball smarts, it’s about angles. There’s a lot more that goes into playing shortstop than people think.
“I believe in my ability, I believe in the homework that I do. And guess what, my heels aren’t going to be hurting either. I’ve played with my heels bothering me the last couple of years. So I might even be better suited for the position as I get older.”
Just don’t ask him to consider a switch to a less demanding position.
“I just said, ‘I’m a shortstop,’” Tulowitzki said. “Someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home.”
Somehow, that seems unlikely with Tulowitzki slated to make another US$34-million over the next two years of his contract.