Rockies’ Helton pacing himself for ’09 |

Rockies’ Helton pacing himself for ’09

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Colorado Rockies' Todd Helton tugs on his cap while stretching Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009, during spring training baseball in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

TUCSON, Ariz. ” Colorado first baseman Todd Helton’s back is feeling “100 times better” but he knows he has to slow down his regimen during spring training.

The 12-year veteran has never been known during his stint with the Rockies for taking it easy.

That has to change with offseason back surgery to relieve pressure from a bulging disc.

“It feels 100 times better than it felt last year during the season. That is a positive,” Helton said this week.

The career .328 hitter played only 83 games a year ago, the fewest in his major league career. He played only two games after July 4 to finish the season with a .264 average with seven home runs and 29 RBI.

Helton won’t say what his goals are for the number of games he plays or his other stats, but does want to be in the starting lineup on opening day on April 6 against Arizona.

That might mean fewer innings in the spring, and playing smarter.

“I’m not going to be diving for a ground ball or anything like that. As far as running, I don’t know,” Helton said. “I can ride the bike with the best of them, but I haven’t run that much. So that will be part of getting back into it. I think I can make it.”

Garrett Atkins frequently filled in at first base last season, but the Rockies are proceeding as if Helton will be ready to go this year.

Colorado has relied on Helton since picking him up in the first round of the 1995 draft. He has hit 310 home runs, 471 doubles and driven in 1,165 runs.

“He can still get on base and he can still hit doubles,” Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said.

“The fact is he is a tough out. We need to find him a way to continue to be the toughest out in the National League. You would like to think your toughest out in the lineup is third (in the batting order). I think that is still a really good possibility for him,” Hurdle said.

A month before he went on the disabled list in July, Helton had the third-highest career batting average of all active players at .328. St. Louis’ Albert Pujols was first at .334 and Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki was second at .331.

After hitting .264 last year, Helton isn’t taking anything for granted as he works on his swing in the batting cages and at live batting practice.

“I’m trying to find one,” Helton said. “It needs tweaking, but I am not tweaking it for back purposes.”

Finding his swing again and staying healthy were his motivation in the offseason. Rehabbing and not being able to take the field with his teammates made him wan to get better quicker.

“It was very frustrating. That was one of my (motivations),” he said.

“When I didn’t feel like doing one of my exercises because I wanted to take a day off, that is kind of what drove me a little bit. The feeling you didn’t contribute and you were not there for your teammates (hurt). That helped me get through the off season.”

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