4 COLORADO ROCKIES

April 05, 2009

On ShortNotice
After his rocky season, an infield phenom is eager to prove he's all grownup

IF THE Rockieslearned anything last season, it's that every Magical Mystery Tour comes to anend. From pennant winner to division straggler in less than nine months,Colorado quickly experienced the flip side of being the hottest team inbaseball.

It's hard topinpoint when the bottom dropped out. But here's one possibility: During an18--17 victory over the Marlins last July 4—a game in which the Rockies stageda nine-run comeback, the largest in franchise history—manager Clint Hurdleyanked struggling Troy Tulowitzki from the lineup in a double switch. Furiouswith his skipper, the shortstop slammed his bat in disgust. The bat splinteredand sliced open a cut on Tulowitzki's right palm that would require 16stitches, landing him on the disabled list for the second time that season.

It was the lowestof lows for the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up, one of the heroes of theRockies' storybook run to the World Series. In the span of a year Tulowitzkiwent from front man for a team on the rise, batting .291 with 24 home runs and99 RBIs, to scapegoat for a sub-.500 club in the weak NL West, hitting .263with eight homers and 46 RBIs.

"There was arealization on his part last year that the game is very hard," veteranfirst baseman Todd Helton says of his teammate. "Once you feel like thingsare going really good, this game can turn around and kick you right in yourbutt."

Tulowitzki, 24,admits he might have taken on too much in 2008. "I felt like I had theweight on my shoulders," he says, "and I let the team down." Howquickly he rebounds is the key question this spring, because Hurdle is countingon Tulowitzki to fill the large shoes of Matt Holliday as the Rockies' leader.Holliday was traded to the A's during the off-season after it became clear toColorado that the slugger wouldn't re-sign a multiyear deal.

Holliday wasn'tthe rah-rah type who pumps up a clubhouse. But he did average 32 home runs, 113RBIs and a .400 on-base percentage over the last three seasons. He was also thesenior member of a tight-knit core of everyday Rockies who came up through theclub's minor league system, a group that includes Tulowitzki, third basemanGarrett Atkins, rightfielder Brad Hawpe and second baseman Clint Barmes. "Iwent up to [Holliday] when I was struggling," says Tulowitzki, who adds hestill solicits hitting advice from Holliday via text message. "He waswilling to help because we're good friends. I'm not going to have him to go upto anymore."

Tulowitzki knowshe has to learn from last year's mistakes, most of which he ascribes toimmaturity. "Not only are your skills under a microscope every singleday," Hurdle says, "but your character is also under the microscope.Troy dealt with some adversity last year, and I really think it helped him growup and understand what leadership is truly about at this level."

Tulowitzkiappreciates his manager's confidence and accepts his new responsibility withenthusiasm. "One thing I think a leader does is work hard on and off thefield," he says, "and I feel like I put myself in a good position.People like me in this clubhouse and how hard I work. Some of your best playersare your hardest workers, and I like to look at myself that way."

There are plentyof other areas that will require hard work. With starting lefthander JeffFrancis likely out for the season after surgery on his throwing shoulder,Hurdle is counting on soft-tossing Aaron Cook to front a rotation that includesUbaldo Jiménez, a talented but still undisciplined flamethrower. Jiménez had a3.31 ERA at Coors Field (compared with 4.72 on the road) and 172 strikeouts(but 103 walks) in 1982/3 innings. Hurdle still has to choose his closer,either Huston Street (acquired in the Holliday deal) or Manny Corpas. And theleftfield spot is a three-man battle that still may not be decided by OpeningDay.

But Colorado'sresurgence largely depends on Tulowitzki. "There comes a time when youthrow your kid the car keys and say, 'Take me for a ride,'?" Hurdle says."You just cover your eyes while they're driving."

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

Having cut tiesto Willy Taveras, the Rockies are using a combination of fourth outfielder RyanSpilborghs and Carlos Gonzalez (the prize in the Matt Holliday trade) incenterfield. Spilborghs is better suited to be the righthanded half of aplatoon in a corner position, while Gonzalez, who had a .273 OBP last seasonwith the A's, may never reach base enough to be a regular in the majors. Theanswer is to allow Dexter Fowler (left), a more complete player than eitherSpilborghs or Gonzalez, to take over the job. Fowler, 23, has shown strongon-base skills at every level in the minors, has very good speed and hit .335in Double A last season. He's the one Rockies player who might get on baseenough to be a leadoff batter in a good lineup, and the team desperately needsthat if it's going to make a run at the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks.

THE NUMBERS

LIE
6.9

Percentage of flyballs hit off Ubaldo Jiménez in 2008 that went for home runs, down from 11.5%in 2007. Averaging 94.9 mph on his fastball, best among all major leaguestarters, Jiménez yielded only 11 homers in 198 2/3 innings, an improvementover the 10 he gave up in 82 innings as a rookie. The big league average of flyballs turned homers, however, is typically 10% to 12%, meaning Jiménez is inline for a long-ball spike.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager ClintHurdle
EIGHTH SEASON WITH ROCKIES

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

RYAN SPILBORGHS CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 162 .313 6 36 7
TROY TULOWITZKI SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 95 .263 8 46 1
TODD HELTON 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 166 .264 7 29 0
GARRETT ATKINS 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 64 .286 21 99 1
BRAD HAWPE RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 80 .283 25 85 2
CHRIS IANNETTA C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 106 .264 18 65 0
SETH SMITH LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 195 .259 4 15 1
CLINT BARMES 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 222 .290 11 44 13
BENCH
IAN STEWART IF-OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 187 .259 10 41 1
DEXTER FOWLER (R)* OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 217 .335 9 64 20
YORVIT TORREALBA C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 291 .246 6 31 0

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Aaron Cook 42 16 9 4.1 1.34 3.96
RH Ubaldo Jimenez 44 12 12 7.8 1.43 3.99
LH Jorge de la Rosa 181 10 8 8.9 1.46 4.92
RH Jason Marquis

[NEWACQUISITION]

190 11 9 4.9 1.45 4.53
LH Franklin Morales 199 1 2 3.2 1.78 6.39
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Manny Corpas 100 3 4 5.6 1.46 4.52
RH Huston Street

[NEWACQUISITION]

138 7 18 8.9 1.21 3.73
RH Taylor Buchholz 147 6 1 7.6 0.95 2.17

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie *Double A stats
B-T: Bats-throws WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
June 2, 1997

The Big Cat himself is nice in a gentlemanly way,though the litany of just-how-nice stories must come from other people.Colorado manager Don Baylor mentions that Andres Galarraga rented a car duringspring training this year for a minor leaguer who had no credit cards, and theRockies media guide notes that Galarraga dug into his pocket (for $30,000) tohelp refurbish Andres Big Cat Galarraga Field, a baseball diamond in Denver'sHispanic neighborhood of Westwood. "I used to buy tickets to games for poorkids," he says, "but then only one kid might remember one night.[Fixing up the field] helps a lot of kids, and it's forever."
—MICHAEL FARBER

For free access to all Rockies stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOJAMES LAND/US PRESSWIRERISE AND FALL After a storybook rookie season, Tulowitzki saw his numbers and his reputation take a plunge last year. PHOTORICH CLARKSON (FOWLER) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)