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Rutledge working to solidify Rockies' infield plans

Rutledge working to solidify Rockies' infield plans

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Rutledge working to solidify Rockies' infield plans
DENVER -- Rockies infielder Josh Rutledge, already having shown he can produce when it counts, heads into 2013 needing to perform well when the records and stats don't count.

Called up from Double-A Tulsa just after the All-Star break to serve as the everyday shortstop with Troy Tulowitzki out because of groin surgery, Rutledge hit .274 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 73 games.

Next season, with Tulowitzki expected back in his role as leader in terms of production and inspiration, Rutledge is penciled in at second base. The Rockies have confidence he'll make the defensive switch with ease. Rutledge, 23, can't afford to slip, not with DJ LeMahieu having hit for a .297 average in 81 games, many while playing alongside Rutledge.

But Rutledge will enter his first big league camp -- he was in Minor League camp in 2012, appearing in just one Cactus League game -- with a good idea of what it takes to be a regular in the bigs.

"It was a huge year for me, mentally, physically, just being able to play the number of games that I've played," Rutledge said. "To get called up and be able to play with these guys and just learn from these older guys has been a huge experience for me. Hopefully, it'll help me further in my career."

A lineup with Rutledge will be one with plenty of power and run production up the middle. Tulowitzki is a 30-homer threat when healthy, catcher Wilin Rosario set a club record for rookie homers (28) last season, and center fielder Dexter Fowler is coming off a year in which he set career highs for hits, home runs and RBIs.

Rutledge set a club rookie record with home runs in four straight games (July 29-Aug. 2) and drove in 18 runs in his first 22 games. The only Rockies player to produce more RBIs in his first 22 games was Jeff Baker with 20, but those were spread over 2005 and 2006.

"Rutledge is a very exciting kid," new Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He can hit the ball in the gap or hit the ball in the seats.

"He's going to have to adjust to some things. But he's an athletic kid. I think he'll do that."

Rutledge's 130 total bases were the second most among National League rookies after the All-Star break. He was much better in the beginning (.381, 24-for-63 in July) than at the end (.197 average in his final 132 at-bats).

The experience gave Rutledge, a third-round pick out of the University of Alabama in 2010, a good idea of how to prepare for the length of the Major League season. Rutledge -- who divides his offseason workouts between his home in the Birmingham, Ala., area and a facility in Tampa, Fla. -- vows to work just as hard this time as he did last winter, when he wasn't on the 40-man roster and didn't get an invitation to big league camp.

"That was one of the things that made me work like I did in the offseason," Rutledge said. "I knew I had to prove myself. The only way I could do that was through hard work. I dedicated myself. That's just how I am anyway."

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.

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