Last year at this time, Helton's season was all but over because of a bulging disk in his back. He would undergo surgery after a season in which he appeared in just 83 games (.264, seven homers, 29 RBIs).
Helton realizes he has to manage his health. He didn't start Saturday night. Realizing he no longer has the 30-plus home run power that he had at the start of his career, he also has to manage his expectations. But his .323 batting average, 12 home runs and 69 RBIs -- as well as his 121 games played -- all have been pleasant developments for the Rockies.
"I just try not to do too much," Helton said. "I'm 36 years old. There are going to be days I don't feel as good as others. You try not to do too much at the plate.
"I can play at a high level. I'm thankful for that."
Tracy admitted he has played Helton on occasions when it might have been prudent to let him rest. But he sat with Helton on Wednesday and planned Saturday's day off.
"You'd like to be very selfish and keep pushing him in there, but we're asking for trouble if we do that," Tracy said. "Our ambition is to be in a very special place come the fourth of October. We can't do it without Todd Helton."
Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe is happy Helton is providing a new chance for fans to appreciate him.
"I always say the fans of Colorado are spoiled to have him," Hawpe said. "They think of him as the best player on their team, but in actuality if you look at his numbers and what he has done and how he produces, he's one of the best players of our generation, not just the team.
"He's a tough man. Things that other people can't do, he can. That's why he is who he is. He proves the believers right and the doubters wrong."
With health no longer a question, Helton's full concentration is on restoring the Rockies' momentum for the late-season push.
"There's a lot of season left, a lot of big games coming up," Helton said. "What you ask for is to be in this situation and to be playing [meaningful] games in late August and September. Upstairs, they've done everything they can to put us in this position. Now it's up to us to make good on it."
COL: RHP Jason Hammel (8-7, 4.43 ERA)
Hammel has been on a roll his last two times out, pitching seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball in Washington and another seven innings of two-run ball in the Rockies' extra-inning win against the Dodgers on Tuesday. It was his longest outing of the year at Coors Field, where he has made significant improvements his last three starts. He has consistently performed better on the road this year, posting a 6-4 record and a 2.88 ERA away from Colorado. He has one previous start in San Francisco this season, pitching six innings of shutout ball in a game the Rockies went on to lose 1-0 in May. He has been aggressive in his approach to hitters in his recent starts, leaning on his four-seamer and mixing in his curve and cutter to good effect.
SF: RHP Matt Cain (12-4, 2.39 ERA)
Cain has gone winless in his last six starts, but don't let that fool you. He has a 2.72 ERA in this span, walking nine and allowing 36 hits in 46 1/3 innings. He's also 6-2 with a 2.28 ERA at home this season. Cain has pitched at least seven innings in all eight of his starts since the All-Star Game, hiking his season total to 177 1/3 innings and putting him just a few outings away from reaching the 200-inning level he covets so much. Cain's 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA in three starts against Colorado this year.
Recent Rockies pickup Jason Giambi, a former American League Most Valuable Player, knocked his first home run for Triple-A Colorado Springs on Saturday night in the eighth inning of a 14-2 loss to Salt Lake. The homer came off Bees reliever Sean Loux. Giambi is expected to join the Rockies when rosters expand to 40 on Tuesday, the day the Rockies open a three-game home set against the Mets. ... Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who has been slowed recently by a punctured left hand and a bruised left thumb, batted in the ninth inning against the Giants on Saturday -- an indication that he's close to return to full-time action. ... Catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who is sharing time on an almost equal basis with Chris Iannetta, singled in the third inning to extend his hit streak to nine games. That ties his career high. Torrealba is hitting .400 (14-for-35, double, four RBIs) during the streak.
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Official game notes
Tuesday: Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa, 12-9, 4.72) vs. Mets (Mike Pelfrey, 9-9, 4.80), 6:40 p.m. MT
Wednesday: Rockies (Ubaldo Jimenez, 12-10, 3.33) vs. Mets (Tim Redding, 2-4, 5.94), 6:40 p.m. MT