DENVER -- The Rockies are retraining veteran left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis, currently at Triple-A Colorado Springs, to be a reliever, Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett said Friday.
Geivett said through the Rockies' media relations department that Francis was bound for the bullpen on the same day that right-hander Aaron Cook, who several years ago teamed with Francis at the top of the rotation, left the Colorado Springs club. The Sky Sox tweeted an announcement late Friday afternoon that Cook had decided to sit out the remainder of the season. Cook was placed on the Sky Sox's temporary inactive list.
Francis, 32, the Rockies' No. 1 starter several years back, was 2-5 with a 6.58 ERA in 11 starts before being sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs on June 20. At Colorado Springs, he is 2-2 with a 4.60 ERA in six starts.
The decision regarding Francis was first reported in a tweet by the Denver Post.
The move gives Francis a chance to shore up the Rockies' middle relief situation. With pitchers not going much over 100 pitches, the club needs solid relievers to protect leads or keep games tight for a solid late bullpen featuring right-hander Matt Belisle, left-hander Rex Brothers and right-handed closer Rafael Betancourt.
Righties Edgmer Escalona and Adam Ottavino and lefty Josh Outman have handled the role with varying degrees of success this year. Righty Wilton Lopez was expected to help in late innings but has struggled this year, and he is pitching in the middle innings but usually in low-leverage situations.
The move of Francis and the departure of Cook mean if the Rockies look to Colorado Springs for immediate rotation help, the possibilities are two recently acquired hurlers.
Righty Collin McHugh is a combined 4-3 with a 2.79 ERA with Triple-A Las Vegas and previously the Mets and Colorado Springs. Righty Armando Galarraga was 6-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 16 starts at Triple-A Louisville before the Rockies acquired him in a trade with the Reds on Monday. Galarraga will make his Colorado Springs debut Sunday.
Also, righty Chad Bettis, a second-round Draft pick in 2010 out of Texas Tech, has performed well in two of his three starts at Double-A Tulsa since returning from an oblique injury he sustained in early May.
Injuries have eliminated two other prospects who saw time with the Rockies last season from consideration this year.
Left-hander Christian Friedrich, who had some positive outings last year as a rookie (5-8, 6.17 ERA in 16 starts), has gone home to the Chicago area to rest after rehab exercises failed to work for a back injury. Friedrich, on Colorado Springs' disabled list, sustained a stress fracture in his lower back last season and experienced a relapse in Spring Training. The Rockies hope total rest, even if it costs Friedrich the season, will pull him past the problem.
Left-hander Edwar Cabrera, who went 0-2 with an 11.12 ERA last season but has not thrown a pitch this year outside of extended spring training, recently had surgery to clean out his left labrum.
Rockies expect to benefit from Tulo's return
DENVER -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, still dealing with soreness from a broken rib, did not have as long a midseason break as others. That's what happens when one plays in the All-Star Game. But he does not see the pain hampering his production.
His ribs were hurting before he came out of a June 13 game against the Nationals after making a dive. An MRI exam later revealed the break. But Tulowitzki came out healthy after playing three of the four games against the Dodgers in the final days before the break. The All-Star Game was uneventful, but he did dive once and did not suffer re-injury.
"It's just general soreness, and you deal with soreness throughout the year anyway," said Tulowitzki, who wears thin padding to protect the rib. "It's not something I haven't dealt with before. Even before the injury, I was in the same situation I'm in now. It was sore.
"I feel good. I wouldn't have played in L.A. or the All-Star Game if I wasn't up for it. No doubt, I'm not going to lie. There's still soreness in the area, but good enough to go out there and play."
The in-house wisdom says the Rockies were a better-than-.500 team before Tulowitzki (.332, 16 HRs, 52 RBIs in 64 games this season) left the lineup. He went 0-for-10 in Los Angeles but is expected to perform to standards, at which point the Rockies expect to win big. They entered Friday 46-50 but just 4 1/2 games behind the National League West-leading D-backs.
Tulowitzki, who started the All-Star Game, prefers to let others make that assessment.
"I feel I definitely help when I'm out there, but I would never go on record saying I'm going to be the difference," Tulowitzki said. "There are too many guys that play a part in this thing. We need everybody."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss spent the first half monitoring Tulowitzki because of his issues with leg muscle injuries, such as the right groin injury that limited him to 47 games last year. Now, he is also monitoring the ribs. But the honest back-and-forth helped Tulowitzki perform well enough to receive early NL Most Valuable Player consideration before the injury, and Weiss expected the success to continue.
Friday night's game against the Cubs was the first of 17 straight days with a scheduled game.
"We'll play it by ear," Weiss said. "It'll all depend on how well he responds to going out here and playing. That was the plan breaking Spring Training. That was the plan in the first half. It'll be the plan moving forward.
"We also know we've got to have him on the field. We want him out there, but a lot of that will depend on how he feels from day to day."
Weiss acknowledges opportunity of homestand
DENVER -- First-year manager Walt Weiss has emphasized keeping the Rockies even-keeled, but it is hard not to look at the schedule and see the 10-game homestand that opened Friday night as an opportunity.
The series are against the Cubs, Marlins and Brewers -- teams toward the bottom of their divisions, and all considered "sellers" as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. Weiss acknowledged the importance of the homestand, but more in the vein of his club -- which at 46-50 entering Friday's game against the Cubs is a contender mainly because no one has taken control of the National League West -- than the opponents' issues.
"It's important for the fact that we're at home, and we have to play well at home," said Weiss, whose club is 26-21 at Coors Field. "We did that well early. We need to get back to establishing some dominance at home, and it's an opportunity to do that right away.
"I don't want to get caught up in saying how many games we have to win on this homestand. You've got to be careful getting too far ahead or getting caught up with what's happened. But it's a nice opportunity we have here, opening up this 10-game homestand."
Should Helton retire, it could be on high note
DENVER -- The Rockies' dream of a strong second half and a playoff berth could provide a happy-ever-after ending for veteran first baseman Todd Helton's career.
Helton has not announced whether he will retire at the end of the season, but it is the final year of his contract, his surgically repaired back and right hip are balky and he has started just 53 of the club's 96 games this season. He entered Friday night's game against the Cubs to open the post-break schedule hitting .258 -- nowhere near his standout career standards -- with six home runs and 30 RBIs.
If this is it for Helton, it could be exciting. The Rockies entered Friday 4 1/2 games behind the National League West-leading D-backs, but it was just before the break that the Rockies had a healthy lineup for the first time in a month.
"It's good to be on a team that could be playing meaningful games in September," Helton said. "You'd love to end the season winning [the World Series] on the last day. That's how you'd write the script, but we don't get to write it exactly the way we want."
Helton hopes the All-Star break gave him enough rest to make a big push.
"I feel pretty rested, but I could have used another three or four days," Helton said with a laugh.
Helton has been sharing first base with Jordan Pacheco and, occasionally, Michael Cuddyer, after spending his career as an everyday player. But the time off is not necessarily rest time.
"My swing has been so bad this year that I've had plenty to work on," he said.
Helton's defense has held up, so his value has held even if his hitting has dipped.
"It's still something I could still say is a positive to my game, but I didn't sign up just to go out and play good defense," Helton said. "Obviously, I wish I'd done better up to this point, but I can only try to improve from where I'm at right now."
Rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado believes Helton's glove cannot be underrated.
"If you get the ball close, he's going to make the play -- he's the best scooping first baseman in the game," Arenado said. "He's saved me tons this year. I couldn't be happier with the way he takes care of me. It's pretty awesome having him on the team.
"I've watched him work hard every day. With him, nothing comes easy. You'd think, being older, he could take it easy, but he watches film and does the little things to get better. If he's still doing that, that means I have a long way to go."
Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who took over for Helton as the face of the franchise in recent years, said Helton had not told him he was done at the end of the year but that he would not mind if Helton kept playing.
"I hope he comes back, because I enjoy playing with him so much," Tulowitzki said. "He does a little bit of everything. He's a great player on the field, and everywhere else he helps us professionally. Take a look before the game. He knows how to prepare.
"He can be hard on himself. Everybody sees how upset he can get with himself. But at the end of the day, when he walks out of the locker room, he does a good job putting on his dad face and just being a good guy."
Schemmel completes 112-mile memorial bike ride
DENVER -- Rockies radio broadcaster Jerry Schemmel showed up at Coors Field stiff-legged but fulfilled Friday as he prepared to broadcast the game against the Cubs on KOA 850 AM and the Rockies Radio Network.
Schemmel completed a 112-mile bike ride to honor each of the 112 people who lost their lives in the United Airlines Flight 232 crash in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989. Schemmel survived the crash and crawled back into the wreckage to save an 11-month-old baby.
"This is the 24th anniversary of the crash, and I did the bike ride today for the fifth or sixth year," said Schemmel, who had cycled competitively. "From my home [in Littleton, Colo.,] to a spot in Colorado Springs, it's 66 miles. It's a nice route, and I take the back roads.
"The first half was good. It was around 70 degrees. The last three hours were a little rough. It kept getting hotter. I was slow, but I made it."
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.