PITTSBURGH -- Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart will have the opportunity to show he can battle with top left-handed pitchers, but not yet.
Stewart was not in the lineup Thursday afternoon against the Pirates' Paul Maholm. But having missed half of Spring Training with a right knee sprain and having barely recovered from left hamstring soreness in time for the season, Stewart is not at full stride. An 0-for-4 performance with two strikeouts looking Tuesday against the Dodgers left him 0-for-9 for the season.
"I want him off on the right foot, or at least to feel like I've created the forum for him to have the opportunity," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "You can tell we're still kind of in Spring Training mode with him. You can see that with his swing.
"There's a better option for him, rather than feeling like you're burying the guy."
Stewart, who has started twice in the first five games, said he realizes where he is.
"I feel good, feel healthy, but unfortunately I'm playing catchup," he said. "But we're playing well as a team. I'm just hoping to contribute in some way out there."
Stewart has hit .234 with 11 home runs against left-handers in 176 career at-bats. He hit .178 against lefties in 2009, but raised the mark to .231 last year. The ability to handle such matchups is one of the markers for Stewart, who is hoping to turn potential into stardom. But Stewart said there is more at work than his individual opportunity.
"We haven't sat down and said anything, specifically about it," Stewart said. "From what [Tracy] has said, he just wants to get everybody at-bats early in the year."
Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton were the only left-handed hitters in the lineup Thursday against Maholm, who has held lefty batters to a .208 career average, but has yielded a .302 mark against right-handed swingers. Stewart and left-handed-hitting right fielder Seth Smith sat.