Without Helton, Rox showing their depth

Without Helton, Rox showing depth

DENVER -- Todd Helton emerged from the Coors Field clubhouse wearing a vintage 1950s first baseman's mitt -- a gift from a fantasy camper back when Helton counseled the event when he was a rookie.

But vintage Helton is a ways off.

For the first time since going on the disabled list with a lower back strain on July 4, Helton participated in his first baseball activity on Monday, playing catch from about 75 feet. Helton has taken two epidural shots for a disk issue, which is causing the straining.

Helton has been running a treadmill and said he is pressing the Rockies' training staff for a timetable for his return. But he also understands the club's caution.

"I feel like I could [do more baseball activities], but one bad swing and I could be set back," Helton said. "But give it a couple of days and hopefully I'll start swinging, and go from there."

The back pain led to leg pain before Helton finally went on the DL. Helton's batting average had plummeted to an uncharacteristically low .266.

In his absence, however, the Rockies are 9-6. They went into Monday's opener of a three-game set with the Dodgers six games behind them and the Diamondbacks in the National League West.

"It's not easy, not being able to help the team, and that's the frustrating part," Helton said. "But they're doing well. That's all that matters. I guess it makes it easier when they're going out and playing well, but it makes it hard, too."

The fact that the Rockies have absorbed Helton's injury points to one of their better traits this inconsistent year. They've had some of their best stretches when beset with injuries.

"Our players know that when somebody goes down, we don't throw our hands up in the air and go, 'Oh, no, what are we going to do?'" Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "We just don't do that.

"Obviously, there are going to be some holes that are bigger than others. But I do think it's how you handle it from the top, and how you handle it from the manager's seat, the coaches' seat, and the players reflect upon that. They know it's business as usual.

Helton is sold on the depth. The Rockies absorbed his extended absence by moving Garrett Atkins from third base to first, which was his position in college and early in his pro career. Through two games at least, prospect Ian Stewart is performing well at third.

"It's fun to watch," Helton said. "You learn these guys are good."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.