DENVER -- The roll he's on reminds people of the vintage Todd Helton, but even a .444 average in the D-backs' series with a double, a homer, and five RBI wasn't enough to keep Helton in manager Jim Tracy's lineup for Sunday's finale.
"He looks really, really good right now," Tracy said. "He looks even better than he looked like last year when [he hit .302] at this stage in his career. I hadn't seen his lower half look as strong as I had seen it during the course of Spring Training this year. But I think there is hopefully a much greater understanding as to how beneficial it is to not push the envelope."
Helton has game-winning RBIs in the Rockies' last at-bats in the last two games, and nearly had a third in Thursday's series finale against the Giants, making it a challenge to get him of the field. But Tracy has learned that when he does take his first baseman out of the lineup, it pays dividends in the long run.
"Whether it's Todd or anybody else, if you wait until the individual's gassed, and then say, 'Hey, I think he needs a day off,' to a certain extent for me that can be completely counter-productive. But as they're getting to the point where you know it's probably coming or it's getting close and you're proactive that way and you jump on it, all of a sudden they get 24 or 48 hours, it will do wonders, believe me."
No point being stranded on "empty," especially when the reserve tank is filled by Jason Giambi.
"It's real easy for me to [rest Helton], knowing that we've got another guy going out there today to play that needs some playing time," Tracy said. "I can't ask a guy to take the kind of at-bats that Jason Giambi takes and have him only see 55-60 mile an hour [batting practice] pitches in between each and every pinch-hit at-bat that he gets. That's unfair. You're compromising the player.
"You have got to find a game here and there for him to be involved in and allow him to see live pitching, allow him to see the ball coming at him 92-94 miles an hour, just from a reflex standpoint. Then you don't feel so bad when you tell him to go up there and take an at-bat against Brian Wilson or J.J. Putz, some of the more predominant closers in the league."
Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez was also out of Sunday's lineup, still suffering from a case of strep throat.
"It's basically the same as yesterday," Tracy said of Gonzalez. "He was sent home [Saturday] because of what he's dealing with and the fact that it is a contagious thing. So to get him out of the clubhouse, rather than allow the entire club to get infected by it, we sent him home. I don't know exactly where he's at this morning."