Rockies feel bite of injury bug in 2011
Team's early excitement dissipates as key players miss time
DENVER -- The dawn of 2011 could not have looked brighter for the Rockies. They had signed two of baseball's brightest young stars, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, to lucrative contract extensions. They were moving to a sparkling new Spring Training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz. They were the sexy pick to win the National League West.Early in camp, veteran right-handed pitcher Aaron Cook suffered a shoulder injury. Then he suffered a broken ring finger on his pitching hand when he accidentally slammed it in a door. At that point, it was one man's freak occurrences. But misfortune would spread. The first batter of the first Spring Training game, the D-backs' Kelly Johnson, lofted a popup into foul ground in left. Gonzalez and third baseman Ian Stewart collided. Gonzalez emerged with minor injuries to one shin and one ankle; Stewart missed much of camp with a resulting knee injury. From there, it seemed 2011 was the year of the mishap, one after another, until the Rockies finished 73-89, fourth in the division.
In what ways did the year go wrong? It could take the rest of the winter to count them. But here are five:5. Stewart's year descends into a star-crossed mess
Stewart pushed to be ready for Opening Day, suffered a slight hamstring injury that he took into the regular season, and promptly slumped. He spent the year going back and forth between Triple-A Colorado Springs, hit no home runs, and found himself traded to the Cubs after the season.4. Veteran signings don't work out
After signing Tulowitzki and Gonzalez to the major deals, the Rockies took a couple of chances on veterans hoping they could provide a spark, at economical prices. But Jose Lopez hit .208 in 38 games before Colorado released him. Ty Wigginton had his moments, but hit .242 in 130 games and a maddening .163 with runners in scoring position. Those outages, along with early slumps by Stewart, Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and center fielder Dexter Fowler -- who didn't find his swing until after a demotion to Triple-A -- left the Rockies in no position to develop a consistent offense. The Rox began the year 11-2, but by June 1 were 26-29 and headed for a subpar season.3. De La Rosa's season ends early
Before the season, the Rockies also signed left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa to a multiyear deal, and he rewarded them by being the team's best pitcher for the season's first two months. But on May 24, in the first game of a doubleheader at Coors Field against the D-backs, De La Rosa left with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.2. Bad timing for CarGo
Gonzalez escaped serious injury in Spring Training, but the bug hit him at the worst possible time for the Rockies. As has been their custom, the Rox had begun to find their stride during Interleague Play and had improved to 40-41 going into a July 3 game with the Royals. Gonzalez had homered, doubled and driven in six runs in a high-scoring game when he went to the center-field wall to grab a Brayan Pena fly ball. Gonzalez suffered an injury to his right wrist that never completely healed, and the Rockies dropped out of contention.1. Thumbs down for Ubaldo
Ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, coming off a 17-win 2010, suffered a cut on his right thumb cuticle in Spring Training, an injury that had Rockies Nation holding its collective breath. It would have been mass panic had folks known immediately about a groin issue. The thumb issue extended into the regular season, and Jimenez never found his groove. The Rockies would trade Jimenez to the Indians as they tried to erase 2011.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.