At least six Rockies players and coaches have experienced two types of illnesses since late in Spring Training, either upper respiratory illness or stomach-related, flu-type symptoms with pain and cramping. Among those affected have been Scott Dohmann, Eli Marrero, Jason Jennings, Matt Holliday, Sun-Woo Kim, coach Davey Collins and Garrett Atkins, who was out of the lineup Saturday with flu-like symptoms.
Head trainer Keith Dugger confirmed that Helton's condition is different from anything experienced by other players this season.
"As you know, it's probably serious when we have to put a guy on the DL," Dugger said. "He still has the stomach pain in the lower abdomen. He's on pain medicine. He's on other type of medicines right now. They're still running further tests, so they don't have a definitive diagnosis at this point in time."
Dugger indicated that the initial tests -- including an MRI on Helton's stomach -- have led the doctors to develop an idea about the problem, but they are "waiting for more tests to confirm their thoughts."
Helton is a three-time Gold Glove winner and the batting champ in 2000, and he leads the Rockies franchise in nearly every offensive category. He was hitting .347 with nine RBIs and a league-best nine doubles, playing in each of the team's first 15 games before missing Friday night's series opener with the Giants. He had 19 walks and an on-base percentage of .529.
This is Helton's second career trip to the disabled list. He was on the 15-day DL last July 26-Aug. 9 with a strained left calf muscle. In that situation, the Rockies waited five days to put him on the DL as Helton tried to work through the pain before reluctantly going down, having already missed four games.
Helton had only missed one game before going on the DL in this case, emphasizing the potentially serious nature of the illness.
"Dr. Schrieber recommended to Duggie today that we put him on the DL and just take our time trying to find out what it is and let him get healthy," said general manager Dan O'Dowd. "He's really sick. He knew he's not healthy enough to play. When you got a pulled muscle or a tweaked something, you grind your way through it as much as you possibly can. But when you're sick and you can't do anything, it's a whole different can of worms.
"He got sick Wednesday night," O'Dowd added. "On Thursday, he was very sick. On Friday, he was really sick. Today, he hadn't gotten any better; he had gotten worse. You would think that if it was some type of flu, you're going to start seeing signs of improvement. He wasn't getting any better, so we just wanted to take the pressure off him. And the doctors want to run a ton of tests that are going to take a couple days to do. Now you're three days in it; now you're seven days in it. The DL's only two weeks, so it's really not a difficult decision to make.
"I wouldn't read anymore into it than that, though," O'Dowd emphasized. "Because he's such an elite player and he's such a face of our franchise, people are going to start speculating on things, and that's just totally unfair. None of us truly know what's wrong. Doctors don't know what's wrong. We're getting so far into the DL time, we just decided to DL him."
The Rockies purchased the contract of outfielder Ryan Spilborghs from Triple-A Colorado Springs to take Helton's place on the roster. Spilborghs hit .328 (19-for-58) with seven doubles and five RBIs in 16 games for the Sky Sox this season.
To make room for Spilborghs on the 40-man roster, relief pitcher Eduardo Sierra was designated for assignment. The 24-year-old right-hander had a 5.14 ERA for the Sky Sox in seven innings over six appearances this season.
Though Dugger was clear that Helton's illness was entirely different than what other Rockies have experienced this spring, the ongoing cases throughout the clubhouse are cause for some concern, as the team tries to keep illness from spreading further through its ranks.
"Guys that are able to play, we'll get out there and play, and guys that aren't able to play, we'll pray for them and hope they get better," said Hurdle.