Notes: Helton set to break out of funk
First baseman remains upbeat despite struggles
CHICAGO -- Todd Helton insists baseball is fun.
"It's definitely fun," said Helton, Colorado's standout first baseman. "It's a game. Sure, it's tough when you're not playing well. But it's still a game."
At least, it's supposed to be fun. But Helton, intense when things are going good, is having his mood tested by the deepest funk of his career.
After going 0-for-4 in Saturday's 5-1 Rockies loss to the Chicago Cubs, Helton is 1-for-29 in his seven games during a road trip that ends Sunday. He is 2-for-42 over his last 12 games, during which his batting average has dropped from .331 to .265.
The struggle has been complete. Usually a threat for at least 30 home runs a season, Helton has five. A left-handed hitter, Helton usually hits left-handed pitchers well enough that there's no point matching up out of the bullpen. He had a .316 career average against lefties going into this year, but in 2005 he's batting .185 against them.
Manager Clint Hurdle, Helton's hitting confidant since the time Helton was a prospect and Hurdle was a Minor League instructor, said all of the poor numbers are a sign that he is rushing and not letting the ball come deep enough in the strike zone.
"It's all there, it's well documented," Hurdle said. "Power numbers are not there, at [levels] what we've grown accustomed to, runs scored, runs driven in are not there. Batting average with runners in scoring position ... there are leaks in everything.
"The good news is we've got 110 games left to play, and Lord knows he can make up time in a hurry. Two weeks ago, he was hot. Two weeks later, he's frigid. And the only reason we're having this conversation is we're setting the bar so high."
The bright side could have been his first two at-bats during an 0-for-4 Friday. He stung balls hard for outfield outs, before the quality of his at-bats dropped. But for Helton, there's nothing golden about an 0-fer.
Helton went to the batting cage and hit for "a long time" after the game.
"The game is about producing," Helton said.
After Saturday's game, Hurdle said Helton should get his mind out of the way of his bat.
"Sometimes in athletics we try so many things, we don't stick to one thing or we don't stick to what we're really good at," Hurdle said. "One thing I know he's really good at is going up there and wiggling that bat and trying to hit it as hard as he can. Not far, but hard.
"He's seemed to be very tentative. He's trying to be really perfect. He's a really good hitter, a great hitter. He needs to somehow erase the chalkboard and do what he's been bred to do, and that's hit a baseball."
Comeback express: Left-handed reliever Bobby Seay has had two one-inning appearances, with improved command the second time, at Double-A Tulsa during a rehab assignment for a chest muscle injury. Hurdle said the reports say he topped at 92 mph, but has consistently thrown at his normal, healthy velocity of 90 mph. Hurdle said Seay will begin working breaking and offspeed pitches into his repertoire.
"He's on the radar, but he's not close -- it's not imminent for his return," said Hurdle, who said he'd like for Seay to get some work at the high altitude of Triple-A Colorado Springs before he returns.
Right-handed starter Aaron Cook, trying to return from a thoracic outlet surgery performed last year, had to take extra time before his last start at extended Spring Training in Tucson because of fatigue. On Thursday, throwing just under 80 pitches, his numbers weren't good -- he gave up 10 hits, although they were mostly soft ones -- but neither was his defense, which consists of the least-experienced players in the chain.
"He sat at around 90 (mph), but I think late in the game, after some plays weren't made and some interaction by the other team, it got his game face on," Hurdle said. "He topped out at 94 the last two batters he faced. That was good to see that's in the tank."
Of the two rookie right-handed relievers sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs on April 28, Scott Dohmann is ahead of Ryan Speier. That's understandable, considering Dohmann was expected to be a key member of the bullpen this season, while Speier had never pitched above Double-A before making the big squad out of Spring Training. Dohmann's command is "gradually" improving, according to Hurdle.
"I think he's getting closer," said Hurdle, who added that he hopes Dohmann sticks for good when he does return.
In other injury news, second baseman Aaron Miles (strained right side muscle) has been shut down from practically all activity. He'll see team doctors when the club returns to Denver after Sunday's game. Right-hander Shawn Chacon said his sprained right ankle, which cost him the start on Saturday, is improving, but the Rockies will reserve judgment for a few days on whether he can return to the rotation for his next turn.
On deck: Left-hander Jeff Francis (4-2, 4.88) will start against Cubs right-hander Sergio Mitre (0-0, 2.57) in the finale of the four-game series.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.