“I try to see how he’s doing,” says the infielder, “and his answer is, ‘You pretty much know what I’m doing, just sitting around.’ That’s all he can really do. You try to keep his spirits high and laughing if you can. It’s a hard time for anybody to be done for the season and know it’s over.”
The Blue Jays confirmed Wednesday what was obvious the moment Tulowitzki gruesomely turned his right ankle at first base July 28 – that the star shortstop’s season is indeed over. They transferred him to the 60-day disabled list to clear a 40-man roster spot for plug-in starter Nick Tepesch. Even if he recovers miraculously fast from what the team described publicly as ligament damage, there’s no sense in ramping him up for the final week of the season, when he’d be eligible to return.
The priority, obviously, will be to ensure proper healing for Tulowitzki. He suffered a significant ligament tear as well as a compression fracture, which is secondary to the tear, when he caught the back of C.J. Cron’s foot as he landed on first base trying to beat out a grounder.
His ankle turned nearly 90 degrees under the force of his weight and momentum on the play.
For the foreseeable future, Tulowitzki must keep the foot immobilized in a walking boot to let the ligament and the fracture heal, hence the frustration he’s expressed to Goins. Surgery isn’t needed and barring the unexpected, he’ll be ready to go when spring training begins next year.
Still, an unknown the Blue Jays will have to wrestle with until then is how Tulowitzki will look on the field once he returns. The 32-year-old has already undergone significant surgeries on his left groin and hip during his remarkable 12-year career, coming back strong from both. Now he faces another challenge, after a trying season in which he also missed a month with a right hamstring strain and rarely looked like himself. Tulowitzki batted .249/.300/.378 with seven homers in 66 games, while posting a Defensive Runs Saved rating of 1 in the field.
Goins described Tulowitzki as “a grinder, man, a gamer,” who will work relentlessly to recuperate and regain his form, and praised the way he played this season despite whatever lingering physical limitations he may have faced after returning from the hamstring injury.
“It makes you want to do the same thing and I think he rubbed off on a lot of guys on this team, how to come to the field every day and bring that 100 per cent of whatever you have that day,” said Goins. “He brings that out of a lot of guys here, and I don’t think we’d be in the spot where we’re at with going to the ALCS the last two years, coming close to the World Series without him. Even this year, staying in the race as long as we have, we’ve overcome a lot of adversity to still be in a spot where we’re not out of it. We’re four games back of a wild-card spot, and without him we wouldn’t be close to where we’re at now.”
Carrying both Goins and Darwin Barney on the roster as insurance against the possibility of a Tulowitzki injury has allowed the Blue Jays to paper over his absences this season, and they may need to plan similarly for next year, just in case.
There’s a degree of uncertainty at second base, as well, with Devon Travis, who is making rapid progress from his second right knee surgery and may play again this season.
Goins remains under club control next year, but Barney will be eligible for free agency and is no lock to return.
The farm system doesn’t have obvious alternatives, as Cuban prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is playing some shortstop at double-A New Hampshire but probably won’t be a strong enough defender to play there for an extended period in the big leagues. He’s also seeing time at second base.
Richard Urena is the primary shortstop with the Fisher Cats but is only 21 and probably too raw to count on as depth in 2018.
All that will have to be factored into the Blue Jays’ off-season shopping list.
In the meantime, all Tulowitzki can do is impatiently wait out the healing process and work with his usual single-minded determination and trademark professionalism to again produce to his usual levels, his contributions to this point extending well beyond his stats on the field.
“For me personally, he’s probably one of the biggest influences I’ve had since I’ve been in the big leagues,” said Goins. “He took me under his wing and this past off-season was big for me, learning about how he’s been so consistent over 12 years in the big-leagues, things I’ve put into my own game and that have helped me out a lot mentally. For our team, he’s one of the best shortstops in the big leagues, offensively and defensively. He always comes up with big hits in big spots, and is someone we definitely miss.”