PITTSBURGH -- Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart will have the opportunity to show he can battle with top left-handed pitchers, but not yet.
Stewart was not in the lineup Thursday afternoon against the Pirates' Paul Maholm. But having missed half of Spring Training with a right knee sprain and having barely recovered from left hamstring soreness in time for the season, Stewart is not at full stride. An 0-for-4 performance with two strikeouts looking Tuesday against the Dodgers left him 0-for-9 for the season.
"I want him off on the right foot, or at least to feel like I've created the forum for him to have the opportunity," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "You can tell we're still kind of in Spring Training mode with him. You can see that with his swing.
"There's a better option for him, rather than feeling like you're burying the guy."
Stewart, who has started twice in the first five games, said he realizes where he is.
"I feel good, feel healthy, but unfortunately I'm playing catchup," he said. "But we're playing well as a team. I'm just hoping to contribute in some way out there."
Stewart has hit .234 with 11 home runs against left-handers in 176 career at-bats. He hit .178 against lefties in 2009, but raised the mark to .231 last year. The ability to handle such matchups is one of the markers for Stewart, who is hoping to turn potential into stardom. But Stewart said there is more at work than his individual opportunity.
"We haven't sat down and said anything, specifically about it," Stewart said. "From what [Tracy] has said, he just wants to get everybody at-bats early in the year."
Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton were the only left-handed hitters in the lineup Thursday against Maholm, who has held lefty batters to a .208 career average, but has yielded a .302 mark against right-handed swingers. Stewart and left-handed-hitting right fielder Seth Smith sat.
Rox not setting timetable for Ubaldo's return
PITTSBURGH -- Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez appeared at PNC Park on Thursday, but only for introductions during the Pirates' home opener. The unanswered question is when he'll reappear on the mound for the Rockies.
A cut on his right thumb cuticle forced Jimenez to the 15-day disabled list, and he is eligible to return April 17. But Jimenez's return date could depend on what he can do during that time on the disabled list, whether he'll need a Minor League rehab assignment and how long that assignment will be. Manager Jim Tracy's policy is to take it conservatively, especially with the team's No. 1 pitcher.
"Rather than sit here and guess about it, I'm just going to wait until I have definitive information," Tracy said. "He's playing catch. The finger looks terrific. But looking good, and how it feels as he continues to get it back to where he wants it to be, are two different issues."
Jimenez struggled on Opening Day, giving up six runs on seven hits in six innings. He ended up with a no-decision in the Rockies' 7-6, 11-inning loss. The thumb cuticle also cost him a start during Spring Training.
Righty Greg Reynolds was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs, and will start in place of Jimenez on Saturday against the Pirates.
Rockies realize road record must improve
PITTSBURGH -- Rockies hitting coach Carney Lansford wasn't around last year, when the Rockies hit .228 on the road and finished 31-50, but he's not going to ignore the subject.
The Rockies simply have to do better. That's one reason Lansford has replaced Don Baylor, now with the D-backs. Of course, it's not an easy problem to fix and keep fixed. Keep in mind that Baylor was hitting coach in 2009, when the Rockies posted the only winning season on the road in their history.
The hitting has been good at home in the early going. In the four games before the Rockies began a four-game series with the Pirates on Thursday as part of an eight-game road trip, the Rockies came within an at-bat of going undefeated. They hit .261 for the homestand, but were consistently sound fundamentally. They need that on the road.
"I did mention to the guys that they need to go to work on the road record, and it starts now," Lansford said. "We don't need to play any different on the road than we did at home. We have the same philosophy hitting at home as we do on the road.
"I challenged these guys. I don't have a problem with talking about it. With the talent that we have, there's no reason that we shouldn't play better on the road. It's about being a professional. If you're that good at home and that bad on the road, there's something wrong."
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki also isn't shy about facing the challenge.
"Two things that we concentrated on and we knew in the back of our heads gave us trouble last year were the Dodgers and then road games," Tulowitzki said after hitting home runs in each game of a two-game sweep of the Dodgers at Coors Field. "We took care of the Dodgers, and now we can get some road games out of the way and we'll be out on the right foot.
"Any place, anywhere, we've got to come to play. It's one thing to get beat, but to beat yourself on the road like we did a little bit last year, that's where it was tough to take."
Manager Jim Tracy said, "We'll take 52-29 at home any year you want to give it to us, but 31-50 [on the road] won't get it done."
Helton reaches Coors Field RBI milestone
PITTSBURGH -- Rockies first baseman Todd Helton not only ignited his team in Wednesday's 7-5 victory over the Dodgers, but he made some home-field history.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Helton's 752 RBIs at Coors made him the first player in 20 years to exceed the 750 mark at any park. The last player to do so was Royals Hall of Famer George Brett, who finished his career with 839 at Kauffman Stadium.
Helton is more concerned with the here and now than history.
"Honestly, I don't concern myself with home runs, whether I'm hitting them or I'm not hitting them," Helton said. "I concern myself with my approach at the plate, how I'm seeing the ball and how I'm swinging it. If I'm driving balls into the gap, hitting doubles, staying on pitches, that's what I'm looking at. "
Thursday's opener of four games with the Pirates meant a reunion with former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, who was his hitting coach in the Minors and the Majors before becoming the Rockies' skipper in 2002.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him, but playing against him is neither here nor there," Helton said. "Managers don't do much anyway."
Rockies' Minor League affiliates open season
PITTSBURGH -- The Rockies' Minor League seasons open Thursday night, with much interest being directed toward Triple-A Colorado Springs, which will play at home against Tucson.
Pitcher John Maine, who is completing his comeback from right shoulder surgery last June, will start for the Sky Sox. Maine showed quality stuff in Spring Training, and the Rockies felt all he needed was some time under game conditions before being considered to contribute in the Majors.
Also, in recent years the Rockies have had a special player who was stored in Colorado Springs until he forced the club's hand. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in 2009 and pitcher Jhoulys Chacin last year were two of them.
This year's could be 2004 No. 1 Draft choice Chris Nelson, an infielder who made his debut last season. Nelson, 25, hit .280 in 17 games in 2010. He didn't hit for a high average this spring, but showed enough of an improvement in hitting fundamentals to have the Rockies thinking he could develop into an everyday player at the Major League level.
But first he'll need to contribute at Colorado Springs as the regular shortstop, but he'll get looks at third and second. Nelson is seen as a multiple-position player at the Major League level, but with the offensive potential to be a regular and possibly an impact player.
"His bat is his strength," Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson said. "The focus is playing him every day. If he's on the big league club now, you're not playing him every day at this point and time. The more at-bats and more chances he gets at shortstop and second base, the better he's going to get.
"His work ethic has been tremendous. Early in his career, he may have been a little immature and he had that injury history. But now he's a pro. There's going to come a point in time where we're going to need somebody at the Major League level. I hope not, but if we need a guy, we feel good about him."
Three of the Rockies' four full-season clubs open at home on Thursday. Double-A Tulsa plays host to Corpus Christi, with righty Juan Nicasio pitching. Righty Chad Betts will start for Class A Modesto against Stockton, and righty Albert Campos will start for Class A Asheville on the road against Hickory.
Called game rescheduled as part of twin bill
PITTSBURGH -- The D-backs-Rockies game that was called because of bad weather on Sunday has been moved to May 24 as the opener of a split doubleheader, meaning separate tickets are required for each game, the Rockies announced Thursday.
The makeup game will begin at 1:10 p.m. MT. Parking lots will open at 10:30 a.m., and early stadium gates will open at 11.
Tickets from April 3 are valid for the makeup game only. Exchanges -- value-for-value, best available seating -- may be made for any game the rest of the home schedule as long as the exchange is made before the makeup game is set to be played. Complimentary tickets from Sunday cannot be exchanged. Discounted tickets may be exchanged only for the amount paid to the Rockies, and are subject to any constraints applicable to the original sale.
Exchanges will be accepted at the Coors Field ticket office and Colorado Rockies Dugout Stores.
The second game will begin at 6:40 p.m., the regularly scheduled time. The stadium will be cleared between games, and gates will re-open at approximately 5:30 p.m.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. Associate reporter Nick Kosmider contributed to the report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.