According to Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will have hip surgery on Friday, ending his 2014 season. He will come up short on plate appearances and will not be eligible to win the batting title, handing the lead over to teammate Justin Morneau.
With outfielder Carlos Gonzalez also likely to be shut down due to injury, per Saunders, the question shifts to the future for Tulowitzki and the Rockies.
Tulowitzki is expected to have a procedure done to fix the torn labrum in his left hip. This labrum is similar to the one in the shoulder that is often a problem for pitchers. The shoulder (or glenoid) labrum and the hip (or ace tabular) labrum are both thin discs of cartilage that function to cushion and stabilize the ball-and-socket joint.
When the ball (head of the femur, in Tulowitzki's case) grinds or even impacts the socket, the labrum can get caught in between, damaging the cartilaginous structure. Until recently, this was impossible to diagnose. It usually presented as groin pain and was treated as a strain. Given Tulowitzki's previous problems with sports hernia, he may have had two problems presenting the same way.
The recovery is often cited as between four and six months, but there is a wide variance in the recovery time. Some rehab protocols, such as this one from UW Health, indicate a return as soon as eight weeks. Since most players have the surgery at the end of the season or during the offseason, it's tough to get a true read on returns. A player could be ready to go in February, but with no games until April, two months is often tacked onto the recovery if measured between games.
The surgery has been very successful, especially in baseball. Dr. Marc Philippon from The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, pioneered the procedure and has been the go-to surgeon for athletes. Philippon's best-known case is Alex Rodriguez, who had the procedure done on both hips at different times.
While others, such as Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, might be more physically comparable, Rodriguez is often used as a point of comparison. While Rodriguez did have the procedure twice, the surgeries were actually performed differently.
In his first surgery in 2009, Rodriguez had only part of the surgery done. The area was cleaned up, but the labrum itself was not repaired in an attempt to get him on the field quicker. It worked and has held up. He never had that revised.
In 2013, Rodriguez was obviously having issues on the field; it was later revealed that he was fighting through the hip injury that required extensive surgery. He was able to play, but the Biogenesis scandal took him off the field. Physically, however, he has shown no problems.
A source I spoke with indicated that he believed Rodriguez would not be hampered by the hip now if he were able to play. Rodriguez is expected to return in 2015.
Tulowitzki is facing an extended period of rehab after surgery, but the signs are all positive. He has come back from similar surgery in the same area without issue. If successful, Tulowitzki should be back on the field for spring training. We will have to watch to see if it costs him any lateral range, but most doctors and athletic trainers I spoke with believe that Tulowitzki will come back near 100 percent.
"I'm looking forward to getting back and playing the game I love," Tulowitzki said Wednesday, via Thomas Harding of MLB.com. "I will do everything I can to perform at a high level for the rest of my career. This should answer a lot of the leg issues I have had in my past."
Given that Tulowitzki has put up MVP-caliber numbers while dealing with a chronic injury, I'm very positive on his successful return. Who knows? Maybe he can be better once his legs are completely healthy, which has to scare some pitchers out there.