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BLUE JAYS

Blue Jays' Tulowitzki insists he's still a big-league shortstop

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

 Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki argues his called third strike with umpire Alan Porter during the 10th inning of an MLB game against the Detroit Tigers on July 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Tulowitzki argues his called third strike with umpire Alan Porter during the 10th inning of an MLB game against the Detroit Tigers on July 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

TORONTO — Troy Tulowitzki was all smiles as he limped into the dugout at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday afternoon.

The Blue Jays shortstop arrived back in Toronto to have the cast over his injured right ankle removed. And though Tulowitzki confirmed he is out for the rest of the season and faces difficult off-season rehab, he’s happy there’s some light at the end of the tunnel and is again with his teammates.

“Yesterday was a big day for me, I got out of my cast so I’m in a walking boot now and able to do a little bit more,” said Tulowitzki, who went on the 60-day DL on July 29 after rolling his ankle while running to first.

“More than anything, it’s been nice to come here and see the guys, catch up with them. You miss them, man. When you’re just sitting at home, watching games on TV and texting guys, FaceTime or whatever, (it’s not bad), but there’s nothing like seeing these guys. It’s like family.”

The normally reserved infielder was as personable with the Toronto media as he’s ever been. That is until someone asked him if he feels that physically he is not the same player he once was when he comes back next season and would he consider moving to another position?

Tulowitzki did a slow burn. Basically, he said, that will never happen, even when various advanced stats and metrics — and just watching the guy play every day — indicate he has lost a step and is just not the shortstop he was when he was named to five all-star games and won two Gold Gloves.

“It’s really far from my mind. I’ve had to answer pretty much that same question since I came out of college,” he said. “So now, I’m sitting here, I’m 32 years old, almost 33, and I get asked the same question. I think you guys know how serious I am about that position and I’ll be the first one to say: ‘Hey, I’m not getting the job done.’

“But I feel like I bring a lot to the table defensively. And I think sometimes what people read into is the metrics, the zone range or whatever. But so much of shortstop is being able to slow the game down for your teammates and your pitchers and taking charge in the infield. Some of those things I think go unnoticed and that’s not something that you can keep a stat on. So, I take a lot of pride in that, try to be really, really good at it. There’s one thing that I’ve always said since I stepped foot on a big league field, is I’ll start this thing as a shortstop and I’ll finish as a shortstop. I’ve lived this position and dreamed of playing shortstop since I was a young, young kid. All my idols were shortstops and I take a lot of pride in that.”

The Jays are thrilled that Tulowitzki takes pride in his position and vows to work hard everyday to get better, because they really have no choice over the next three years but to play him.

The organization is tied to the Santa Clara, Calif., native through 2020 at $20 million, $20 million and $14 million. For the 2021 season, there is a $15-million club option, though that includes a buy-out if he walks. He also has no-trade rights.

And then there’s the matter of his bat: A .292 hitter with an .865 OPS coming into the season, Tulowitzki was batting .249 with a .678 OPS with seven home runs in 66 games before going on the DL.

However, Tulowitzki refuses to believe that his career is on an irreversible downward trajectory, though he admitted the 2017 season was not up to his standards “at all.”

“I should have been a better player this year,” he said. “And I’ll work hard to get better and I think that’s what you get with me. And I’ll be the first one to tell you when I’m not holding up my own and this year was definitely a disappointment for me. But I’ll put some work in the off-season, try to be a better player and come back next year and see what’s in store.”

Even if his best years are behind him, there is probably no one in baseball who takes the game as seriously and works as hard at it as Tulowitzki, and you can see that in his face every day, often in the form of a death stare.

“I’m not out here everyday messing around. Or sometimes I’m not, let’s say, approachable, because I am into my work, I’m into my routine,” he said. “(I’m) serious, I care about this game a lot. That being said, I think you guys have covered me now for a little bit and understand that. And some respect that, some don’t, but that’s the way that I do it.”

Tulowitzki said it’s definitely been a struggle watching his club scuffle this season, but insisted that nobody in the Toronto clubhouse has ever quit.

“They come to the yard every single day and give it all they got,” he said. “You look at Justin Smoak, a tremendous season, what he’s been able to do and really turn around his career, and help this team, has been special.

“You watch K.P. (Kevin Pillar) make those catches in the outfield every single night, obviously that’s not a guy who has given in at all. Lays it out on the line. J.D. (Josh Donaldson) has dealt with some injuries this year, plays as hard as anybody. That’s just to point out a few guys. But there’s definitely no quit. Stro (Marcus Stroman) brings energy on a nightly basis. Go Go, (Ryan Goins), I have been impressed with him. I see these guys in the cage behind the scenes, maybe where sometimes you guys can’t get in. They care deeply.”

Tulowitzki said his job now is to work hard so he can show his detractors that he can get back to where he was a few seasons ago, both with the glove and the bat.

“I need to find a way to get myself better, and I will,” he said.

sbuffery@postmedia.com