Tulo started in slump, finishing with vigor
Shortstop in contention for awards, streaking down stretch
DENVER -- The difference in Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's status between now and his golden rookie season of 2007 can be measured by the change in clubhouse real estate, and in locker decor.
He no longer dresses right near the entrance. Instead, he's across the room and beside the team's pitching elder statesman, Aaron Cook. Tulowitzki has the extra space that traditionally goes to team leaders. But one feature didn't make the move across the room -- handwritten numbers that served as a running count of all of Tulowitzki's hits from T-ball.
It started in 2007, when at the prompting of teammates, he came up with a number, and pitcher Josh Fogg updated it with each knock. Now Tulowitzki and the Rockies have moved on to other fun pursuits, although the count is near an impressive level.
"I've got to be at 3,000 by now, but, nah, I don't know," Tulowitzki said. "The only thing that counts now is big league hits and big league wins."
After a slow and strife-filled start for himself and the team, the lowlight of which was a one-game punitive benching from former manager Clint Hurdle, Tulowitzki is putting up grown-up numbers and leading a Rockies team that appears headed back to the playoffs.
The club has surged since Jim Tracy took over as manager on May 18, when the team was 18-28. At that point, Tulowitzki was hitting .224.
Since then, Tulowitzki has brought his average for the season to .289. Of his 29 home runs, 24 have come since June 8. He has 45 RBIs since the All-Star break, including 13 that have given the Rockies leads in games.
Even more, he has committed just one error in his past 41 games. With a fielding percentage of .989, he has a shot to become the first shortstop in history to hit 20-plus home runs and have a fielding percentage of .990 or better. He also is two steals form the significant total of 20.
The slow start reached the point of frustration on May 19. In the eighth inning of an eventually 9-1 loss to the Braves, Tulowitzki came to the plate after Dexter Fowler had walked, swung at the first pitch and hit into a double play. Tulowitkzi's decision is supported by stats. He is hitting .458 with eight home runs when swinging at the first ball. But Hurdle, trying to emphasize situational hitting to the club as a whole, benched Tulowitzki the next day.
It's a long way from the bench to front-and-center in a playoff run.
But it's not entirely unusual. In a career that included him leading the Rockies to the National League title and finishing second to the Brewers' Ryan Braun for Rookie of the Year honors in 2007, Tulowitzki has hit .249 with a .328 on-base percentage in the first half of seasons, and .308 with a .376 OBP afterward.
"To get off to a slow start and once again be able to respond, it's not easy to do," Tulowitkzi said. "I'm proud to have accomplished that. But at the same time, I did believe in myself. It wasn't like I didn't think I was going to not come out of it."
Now, a season that started with slumps and discord could finish with honors.
His numbers suggest that he should receive consideration from managers and coaches as an alternative to two-time defending Rawlings Gold Glove shortstop Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies. The solid overall numbers also make him a prime candidate for the Louisville Silver Slugger Award.
"He's put himself in the echelon to be considered for a lot of things -- a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and what else do we want to talk about when it comes to that position?" Tracy said. "At the real old age of 24, this guy is going to be around for awhile. And there are a lot of things about that person that's very, very special. This is a franchise player that you're talking about."
However, he already has what he really wants -- a role as a front-and-center producer for a team with high aspirations.
Last year, he started slowly, missed time with a torn quadriceps tendon and a lacerated hand. He came back to hit .327 in the second half, but it went unnoticed because the Rockies finished 74-88 and out of the playoff picture. No thought was given to him winning a postseason award, either.
"I take the most pride in my defense," Tulowitzki said. "There are some great guys in this league, but I feel like I put myself in a good position to be mentioned for a Gold Glove. The Silver Slugger would be quite an honor, but it's just nice to get mentioned with the great shortstops in this league.
"But if someone were to ask me what award I'd like to win, obviously, it would be a World Series ring."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.