Blue Jays’ Tulowitzki confident he’ll return before end of regular season

BALTIMORE — For two weeks, Troy Tulowitzki’s Toronto Blue Jays teammates have asked how he was feeling. Finally, he can tell them what they want to hear.

“I feel ready,” Tulowitzki said Tuesday after taking batting practice at Camden Yards. “I’m definitely pretty close … I definitely like my chances to play in games before the post-season starts.”

The shortstop has been out since Sept. 12, when he suffered a cracked shoulder blade in a collision with centre-fielder Kevin Pillar. Tulowitzki doesn’t know if he’ll be able to return later in this series against the Baltimore Orioles or this weekend when the Blue Jays wrap up the regular season at the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tuesday night’s game was postponed because of rain, so the Blue Jays and Orioles will play a doubleheader Wednesday.

But Tulowitzki has made significant progress and feels good when taking ground balls, throwing and taking swings. He’s past the pain-tolerance part and is now thinking less and less about the injury when swinging the bat.

“Every day gets better to where it’s just more normal,” Tulowitzki said. “First day it’s kind of 50 per cent, and today I felt good, letting it loose and just trying to be myself.”

Tulowitzki’s acquisition jump-started the Blue Jays’ surge up the standings. A middling 50-51 the day he arrived, the Blue Jays are 41-14 since (entering play Tuesday), have secured a playoff spot and have a chance to claim the top seed in the American League.

Toronto manager John Gibbons has used a committee approach to fill the void, including Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, waiver acquisition Cliff Pennington and September trade pickup Darwin Barney. The Blue Jays would like to have Tulowitzki back to 100 per cent for the playoffs.

“Numbers speak for itself how we did when he was in that lineup,” Gibbons said. “But let’s face it, we’re going to need him in the lineup to be our best. It’s moving that direction.”

Tulowitzki has a .232 average with five home runs and 17 runs batted in since joining the Blue Jays. In 126 games this season with Toronto and Colorado, he’s batting .278 with 17 homers and 70 RBIs.

Most importantly, though, Tulowitzki was a major defensive upgrade over Jose Reyes. And with a powerful lineup that includes MVP candidate Josh Donaldson and sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, he doesn’t need to be the best hitter.

For a Blue Jays team almost naive to playoff baseball, Tulowitzki’s experience in October with the Rockies — which included a World Series appearance — could help.

“There’s something to be said about guys that have played there, been there done that, played in big games,” Tulowitzki said. “It’s a different level, it’s a different atmosphere … I think I definitely can help some of these younger guys by just talking to them.”

First, Tulowitzki will have to get back into game shape himself. He can loosen up his muscles and test himself every which way now, but he’ll only really know he’s ready when he’s in the lineup and faces live pitching again.

“At the plate there are going to be swings and misses that my first time’s going to be during the game, really — foul balls, diving, having to slide,” he said. “Those things you’re not going to simulate until the game comes along. I’ll go with it as it comes. More importantly, though, just being out there helping the team is more important than anything.”

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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press