04/28/2013 9:13 PM ET
Prospect Arenado ready to face high expectations
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- The story will go far beyond his much-anticipated arrival.
It was just a matter of time before Nolan Arenado assumed the Rockies' third base job, and it finally happened on Sunday, after the Rockies designated Chris Nelson for assignment. Arenado, 22, arrives after hitting .364 with three home runs, 21 RBIs and a 1.059 on-base plus slugging percentage at Triple-A Colorado Springs.
It's more than just a guy making his Major League debut. Not since Carlos Gonzalez made his debut in 2009 -- he struggled initially, then became the impact player the club projected -- has a prospect entered with such high expectations. Like Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki when he began his first full season in 2007, Arenado is joining a squad that is spawning playoff dreams.
Last season at Double-A Tulsa, Arenado expected a callup. But the Rockies determined in no uncertain terms, and said so publicly, that Arenado did not have the maturity to receive the promotion. Sunday's action shows the Rockies believe differently now.
Now it's up to Arenado, 22, to handle the expectations.
"I just try to do my job. That's the way I see it," said Arenado, who was having dinner with his parents in Tucson -- where Colorado Springs played Saturday night -- when he was informed that he had been promoted. "Hit the ball hard, make my plays and try to help this team win. This team is playing well right now. I want to be a part of it."
A driver was arranged to take him from Tucson to Phoenix, but the driver admitted being tired. Arenado's parents, who were in a different car following the driver, relieved the driver of his duties and completed the trip.
Arenado is following the blueprint set by Tulowitzki and Gonzalez.
Tulowitzki, who has mentored Arenado since the Rockies selected him in the second round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, debuted with the lower-division Rockies in 2006. But in 2007, he was able to mesh with his veteran teammates during Spring Training and was inserted as the starting shortstop. Tulowitkzi hit .244 in April, but brought energy and defense, and by season's end was a key cog on a club that went to the World Series.
The last two offseasons, Tulowitkzi has hosted Arenado in Las Vegas for workouts. Tulowitzki has also seen Arenado's growth from his first Spring Training in 2012 to this past spring, when Arenado almost made the team.
"For him, it's going to make the transition a lot easier to have gotten to know the guys," Tulowitzki said. "What you do is worry about the team concept, go out every single day and do what you can to help the team win, and not try to do too much. It's cliché, but I can tell you now it's not easy at all."
Gonzalez debuted with the Athletics in 2008 and was sent to the Rockies as part of the package for star outfielder Matt Holliday before the 2009 season. Like Arenado this year, Gonzalez began '09 in Colorado Springs. In his first 27 games, Gonzalez hit .202 and then-manager Jim Tracy handled repeated questions about sending him to the Minors. Tracy resisted. Gonzalez then hit .320 in the second half to establish himself as a star, and he was their best postseason performer.
Gonzalez sees the same talent in Arenado.
"What it takes is confidence and the opportunity that the manager is going to give you," Gonzalez said. "When you talk about Nolan, you're talking about a guy who's going to play a lot of years in the big leagues if he stays healthy. We don't know anything, but we've got to believe he's going to be an All-Star and be a big part of this team. But right now he doesn't have to think about that. He just has to play, and he'll get to that point."
Manager Walt Weiss placed Arenado seventh in Sunday's lineup, but with Michael Cuddyer and Gonzalez sitting, it was not a normal lineup. Arenado could slip in Nelson's old spot -- eighth -- or Weiss could juggle the lineup to take advantage of Arenado's run-producing potential, yet not hand him too much responsibility.
"The plan is, he's going to be playing a lot," Weiss said. "We'll figure out where to slot him in the lineup. I'm not sure about that yet. It's a tough lineup to crack into the middle, but we'll try to ease him in.
"It's my job to protect him at certain times. Nolan, we all knew, was going to have a big league career. It was just a matter of when. It's today."
When Arenado didn't make the team out of Spring Training, there was public speculation that the Rockies were holding him back to slow his arbitration clock. But with him in the Majors less than a month into the season, if all goes well he could be eligible for arbitration after the 2015 season. This indicates that contract status was not a factor in the Rockies' decision-making process.
"We're just trying to win games," said Bill Geivett, the Rockies' senior vice president of Major League operations. "I know a lot of people were saying there was a financial consideration. We're just trying to put the best team we can on the field."
Tulowitzki day-to-day with left rotator cuff strain
PHOENIX -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki suffered a strain to his left -- non-throwing -- rotator cuff and was removed from Sunday afternoon's 4-2 loss to the D-backs before the bottom of the third inning.
Tulowitzki slid and made contact with D-backs catcher Miguel Montero on a play at the plate in the first inning. Evaluations during and after the game concluded with the same result, and the team did not feel an MRI was necessary. Tulowitzki will be on anti-inflammatory medicines and do movement exercises to prevent tightening, and it's expected he will be back in the lineup soon. There is no timetable.
Tulowitzki played two innings at short after the slide, and was replaced by Jonathan Herrera to open the bottom of the third. The pain is in the back of the shoulder, according to the shortstop.
"I was really worried," Tulowitzki said. "I definitely felt something. I never had any shoulder problems. Out there on defense, it kept tightening up on me. I think I definitely feel more confident standing right here talking than if you'd have talked to me after the second or third inning. I'm a little bit relieved.
"I'll take it day by day and check with these guys tomorrow."
It is doubtful he will play Monday night against the Dodgers. Tulowitzki expects some swelling, which could impact his ability to swing the bat. He certainly could have done without the injury, but Tulo is 4-for-32 with one double in his career against the Dodgers' Monday starter Ted Lilly.
It's a lesson in discretion for Tulowitzki. In 2008 and last season, he attempted to play through leg injuries, only to have them worsen and result in missing time. Last year, he suffered a left groin injury in the season's second game, went on the disabled list after playing 47 games and ended up missing the rest of the season because of surgery to remove scar tissue.
Tulowitzki, hitting .308 with six home runs and 22 RBIs and leading Major League shortstops in slugging (.610) and OPS (1.008), reached on a fielder's choice in the first inning. With two out, he tried to score from second on Michael Cuddyer's single, only to be thrown out by D-backs left fielder Jason Kubel. Tulowitzki slid awkwardly with his left shoulder underneath him and rolled into Montero.
"I kind of slipped a little bit, and my arm went straight, then [Montero] kind of jarred me and pushed me down," Tulowitzki said. "It was just awkward. I knew something was going on when I was running out on defense."
Tulowitzki took some swings in the batting cage and was tentative enough that Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger recommended that manager Walt Weiss remove him.
Rockies exploring options with Nelson
PHOENIX -- The arrival of third-base prospect Nolan Arenado meant the departure of Chris Nelson, the Rockies' 2004 No. 1 Draft choice and the team's starting third baseman since last season.
Nelson was in the difficult position of trying to hold the job knowing a guy with star potential was making an inevitable trek to the Major Leagues. Nelson hit .242 with no home runs and four RBIs from the No. 8 spot in the lineup this season.
The Rockies have 10 days to trade Nelson, release him or assign him to the Minors outright. The Rockies will certainly look into which teams have interest in Nelson on the waiver wire. He hit .301 in 111 games last season.
"It's important to honor Nellie and what he's meant to this organization," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He's been here since he was a kid.
"Personally, my relationship goes beyond player-manager. They brought him in and worked him out before the Draft, and I was out there taking ground balls with him in front of our entire scouting department, and I was with him in our Minor League system. It was a very difficult night for me last night, certainly the worst night I've had on this job already. Of course, it's not as tough as it was for Nellie."
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki mentored Arenado during his time in the Minors, but also became friends with Nelson, so Sunday was difficult for him, too.
"You're excited for anybody that gets called up, but the first thought on my mind is Nellie," Tulowitzki said. "I consider him a great friend, someone I have a lot of respect for. I pray that things work out for him."
Helton's recovery process slow-going
PHOENIX -- Rockies first baseman Todd Helton hopes to return from his left forearm strain next Sunday, when he is eligible to come off the disabled list. However, Helton first must be able to swing a bat without setting himself back. That process is not going speedily.
Helton last played on April 19. After a slow start, he hit .268 with three doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs. His absence has been felt this week, as the Rockies have struggled for hits with runners in scoring position.
"It still isn't better," Helton said. "I can't do anything until it gets better."
Meanwhile, right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, on the disabled list with a back strain, had no undue soreness after Saturday's 40-pitch bullpen session, and is on track to return next Sunday to start against the Rays. Chacin will throw in an extended spring game on Tuesday.
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.