08/17/2004 10:33 PM ET
Notes: Helton unhappy with hitting
Slugger batting .277 with runners in scoring position
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton arrived early to share the Coors Field batting cage with many of the rookies who were understandably happy to be hitting in a big league stadium.
|Todd Helton has just two home runs with runners in scoring position. (Will Powers/AP)
The act of swinging a bat doesn't necessarily make Helton happy. He's happy only when he's swinging well, and he has quite a high standard. He isn't happy these days.
Much of baseball would love to have his .327 batting average that ranked fifth in the National League going into Tuesday night's game against the New York Mets, 26 home runs and 71 RBIs.
"When you feel good, you feel like you can get the big hits, in the clutch," Helton said. "I know I haven't done that this year. There are actually statistics to back that up."
Several stats are well below Helton's standards.
Chiefly, he entered the season leading active players in batting with runners in scoring position at .361. This year he's hitting .277 with two homers and 37 RBIs. Also, August is supposed to be his time. He entered the season with a .386 average, best among active players and his best monthly mark. He went into Tuesday hitting .279 this month.
Not sine June, when he batted .379 with seven homers, has Helton truly felt good.
When Helton is hitting well, the extra hitting he does is usually in the batting tunnels behind the dugout. The lack of a full-field perspective tricks him into keeping his stroke short and compact. When he's struggling, though, Helton arrives early to hit on the field so he can see exactly how the ball is traveling off his bat.
So Helton was on the field hitting at 3 p.m. MT, bright and early by baseball standards.
"To swing out on the field, for me, when you're feeling really good, you get to where you're trying to hit it out of the ballpark too much," Helton said. "But right now I could barely hit it out if I wanted to."
Helton hit .286 (6-for-21) as the Rockies went 4-3 on a just-completed road trip. For him, that's a true drought, meaning the well-meaning advice is coming his way. But Helton knows his swing so well that tips aren't necessary. Generally, he asks hitting coach Duane Espy to watch for certain flaws in his setup -- the point of his stride when his head, body and hands should be in proper hitting position -- and works on them from there.
"The good thing about him is you tell him things and he can usually do it," Espy said. "When he doesn't do it right away, that's where he gets frustrated, when he knows what he wants to do and he's not accomplishing that in a timely manner.
"I think it's good. Anybody that wants to excel at anything has to have high standards."
Fall forward: The Rockies are sending third baseman Jeff Baker, second baseman Jayson Nix and outfielder Cory Sullivan to the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League, the prospect circuit stocked by Major League clubs. The Rockies also are sending three pitchers, whose names have not been announced.
The three are having different experiences this season.
Baker, 23, a big-bonus, fourth-round pick in 2002, tore up Single-A Visalia (.325, 11 HR, 64 RBIs in 73 games) and is off to a strong start at Double-A Tulsa (.314, 4 HR, 20 RBIs in 22 games through Monday). Nix, who turns 22 next week and was the club's top choice as a "sandwich" pick in 2001, has struggled in Double-A (.212, 12 HR, 50 RBIs through Monday). Sullivan, who turns 25 Friday, is out for the season after having undergone surgery to repair an elbow ligament before the season started. He was a candidate to play in Triple-A.
Medical history: Right-hander Jason Young, a rookie whose start against the Mets at Shea Stadium on May 21 was his last before his season ended because of an acute right rib fracture, has returned to playing catch but is a long way from even throwing off a mound. Only when he gets close to healthy enough for that will the Rockies begin discussing plans for any pitching he'll do in the winter or fall.
Last year and this year, Young has suffered rib injuries apparently from the stress of throwing. Young, 24, said the Rockies still haven't found another pitcher who has suffered a rib fracture that didn't come from force.
Young, though, would rather be in the record book than in the medical journals.
"It's not like they've seen a lot of this before," said Young, who is doing exercises to strengthen the area. "So it's kind of a 'just see how it goes' thing. They can't say that I'm 4-6 weeks away or something.
"There's nothing cool about being injured. It's a tough situation."
The Walker dividend: Trading Larry Walker to St. Louis, and basically cutting the dollars committed to him for the rest of this year and next year in about half, could pay off in several key moves directed at the future.
One occurred Tuesday, when the Rockies signed 14th-round draft choice Dexter Fowler of Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga.
Baseball America rated Fowler the 10th-best position player and No. 2 prospect in Georgia behind Rockies first-round pick Chris Nelson, a shortstop who is batting .359 at Rookie-level Casper. He dropped in the draft because teams were scared off by the fact he had a full scholarship to Miami.
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd visited with Fowler's family recently, and Fowler was at Coors Field on Tuesday.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.