Helton belts homer after making long trip

Helton belts homer after making long trip

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Rockies first baseman Todd Helton felt good enough to brave the hour or so it took to navigate the Phoenix-area traffic Friday afternoon and get ready to play a game. Call that yet another important step in the right direction.

Helton, whose history of back problems means he often is excused from Spring Training bus rides, was in the lineup for Friday night's game against the Reds. This was a night after he went 4-for-4 with an opposite-field home run in a Minor League game against a D-backs Double-A contingent.

Those are positive signs for Helton, who not only has long-running back issues but underwent surgery last August to repair a torn labrum in his right hip and had a surgery in November to repair cartilage in his left knee.

Helton, 39, added another reason for optimism Friday -- a two-run homer to right-center field off Reds starter Johnny Cueto in the fourth inning.

Helton says he is more interested in how he feels than his numbers. Before making the trip to Goodyear, Helton said he is happy with where he stands physically, as well as with the never-ending project that is his swing.

"Whenever you're working on something and you're able to execute it in games, you've got to be happy about it," Helton said. "Even if you do it in BP [batting practice], you're happy with it. To do it off of live pitching is even better.

"I feel really good physically. I'm in season mode, where I lift weights when I can but I'm just trying to stay where I'm at right now. I'm not trying to gain any more muscle and get in more baseball shape. I feel like I'm bouncing back pretty good right now."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.