Troy Tulowitzki healthy, hoping to help Yankees 'finish' 2019 with a championship

TAMPA, Fla. -- Forced into a full season of downtime because of ankle and heel injuries, Troy Tulowitzki watched a lot of baseball last year, and there was one club that regularly caught his eye.

"I saw a lot of this team," Tulowitzki said of his current employer, the New York Yankees. "They played some good baseball, came up a little bit short. I want to help them finish it off with a championship."

While the Yankees were marching toward a 100-win 2018 season that ended with an American League Division Series loss to the Boston Red Sox, Tulowitzki, then a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, was rehabbing from surgery to both heels, and ankle problems that began in 2017.

Now, he's completely healed. After watching Tulowitzki go through a pair of workouts near his home in California this offseason, the Yankees signed him to a one-year, league-minimum contract in January.

"Taking a full year off was tough for me," Tulowitzki said. "But I think it's built some character, it's built some toughness and it makes you appreciate it that much more, being out there."

With the foot, ankle and heel injuries now far behind him, the five-time All-Star shortstop contends he's finally ready to contribute again.

"Can't wait to prove myself," Tulowitzki said.

He gave a glimpse of that Wednesday afternoon when he put on an impressive power-hitting display during his first rounds of batting practice inside the Yankees' spring training home at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Tulowitzki sent several fly balls over the left- and right-center field walls. At least once a shot of his cleared the massive scoreboard that looms beyond the left-field fence.

"We signed a healthy player. That's the reason we brought him in here, because we did our due diligence about where he was," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "So we knew he was coming in physically in a really good place. The question now for him is going to be the ability to bounce back, and can he endure the rigors of being a regular?"

As the Yankees continue operating without Didi Gregorius -- possibly through the first half of the season -- as he heals from offseason Tommy John surgery, Tulowitzki may have to be a mainstay in the Yankees' infield. The Bronx Bombers also may move Gleyber Torres over from second base at times to help account for Gregorius' absence.

Once Gregorius returns, the Yankees may have to get creative with how often Tulowitzki plays.

"We'll prepare Tulo as though he's getting ready to play shortstop. We won't look at him at another position at spring training," Boone said. "If we're talking about that a couple months into the season and Didi's coming back and we're having those kind of questions or problems, we're probably in a pretty good place."

In the meantime, the short-term plan this spring is to ease Tulowitzki into game action. Boone said the 34-year-old veteran likely won't appear in the Yankees' first two Grapefruit League games, a pair of long road trips to the Red Sox and Rays' spring training facilities.

Tulowitzki is hoping his footwear of choice will play a role, no matter how minor, in keeping him healthy this season. For the first time in his career, he'll be wearing a pair of LeBron James' shoes. He has a pair of cleated LeBron 15s that he says are comfortable and have the level of padding and protection his heels and ankles need.

The 14-year veteran was so adamant about making the Bronx his big-league home this year that he agreed to having a no-trade clause in his very short contract. Four years ago, he went through the only trade of his career, being dealt from Colorado to Toronto.

"It means something to me: to commit to a team and not go anywhere else," Tulowitzki said. "I want to be here, I want to be here a long time, and that was important for me having that in there."
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