PITTSBURGH -- Rockies first baseman Todd Helton's back was loose and his heart was in a thankful place on Sunday morning.
Helton said his back felt much better, two days after it locked when he slipped while doing a shuffle exercise while warming up on a wet field at PNC Park. He took batting practice on the field for the first time since Thursday.
Before the injury, Helton was hitting .278 with a home run and four RBIs in the season's first six games. After battling back problems and related weakness in his legs last year and hitting .256 with eight homers and 37 RBIs in 118 games, the start was a positive development. Helton, 37, a five-time All-Star, said it looks as if the issue is temporary.
"Stuff like that happens; [you're] just glad you don't get tweaked too bad," Helton said. "You realize that every game you get to play is special, because you never know. When you take one step and get hurt or one crazy thing happens, it makes you appreciate all the times you're able to run around out there and be all right."
Helton was able to pull some line drives into the outfield during batting practice on Sunday morning. It was unclear if he would be available during Sunday afternoon's finale of four games against the Pirates. Jason Giambi started for the second time this season.
After being placed in the lineup just before Friday's game, Giambi knocked a three-run homer in his first at-bat and went 1-for-3.
"That's what I'm here for, to help 'Toddie' out and take some at-bats when they need me to," Giambi said. "I've never dealt with back issues. It's tough. You can play through a bad quad. You can play through a bad calf, even a bad shoulder. But with a bad back, you can't really do much."
Ailing CarGo regrets Saturday swing
PITTSBURGH -- Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez battled sleeplessness and dehydration while going 0-for-7 Friday night. He felt worse on Saturday, but managed a 3-for-4 performance with one RBI.
By Sunday, he just needed some rest. He did not start the finale of a four-game series with the Pirates. Third baseman Ian Stewart, waging the same battle with what the Rockies call "flu-like symptoms," has not started a game this series.
"I'm having a hard time," said Gonzalez, who nonetheless pulled himself out of sick bay to do television interviews with a crew from his home country of Venezuela. "I didn't get much sleep last night and the night before. But compared to yesterday, I feel a lot better."
Despite his strong performance on Saturday, Gonzalez and the Rockies were especially sick about his first at-bat in that game.
With two on and Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton struggling, Gonzalez swung at a 3-0 sinker that was darting out of the strike zone and grounded into a double play. A run scored, but Gonzalez's at-bat effectively killed the rally.
"That was not smart of me to swing at a sinker down and away and running to the ground," Gonzalez said. "If I want to swing 3-0, everybody knows I have to wait for a good pitch and drive it to the outfield, at least, and not end up hitting a ground ball for a double play. I'm not one of those guys who hit a lot of double-play ground balls, but I can't do it in that situation."
For those used to youth coaches giving "take" signs in such a situation -- and woe be unto a player who swings -- this is different. Gonzalez won the National League batting title last year and is the talented sort who shouldn't be bound by convention. If a pitcher is going to guide a pitch into the strike zone, a hitter of Gonzalez's caliber is sometimes free to make him pay, regardless of the count.
Gonzalez put two 3-0 pitches in play last year and doubled once, so manager Jim Tracy has freed Gonzalez, along with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, to make such decisions.
To maintain that freedom, though, Gonzalez needs to make sure the pitch is more hittable than the one Morton threw Saturday. Tracy said he discussed it with Gonzalez, without placing limitations on a player who "can hit one into the Allegheny River and break somebody's heart."
Tracy said he reserves the right to revoke the green light, but jumping a player the first time he decides incorrectly is not the proper way to teach.
"It's very easy to present, because of the consistency of the message from Day 1 of Spring Training," Tracy said. "All we have been doing is assuming nothing around here and teaching. But in order to teach, you have to create an opportunity to see if your player needs to be further educated and understands the situation.
"[You tell him,] 'Look, we played 14 innings the night before. They didn't have a lot of bullpen. We didn't have a lot of bullpen last night. Charlie Morton is struggling to get the ball in the strike zone. If, in fact, you're walked, we have a bases-loaded, no-out situation with the shortstop coming up to hit ...'
"The message is received a lot better if you give the player an opportunity to make a decision for himself, instead of just immediately taking everything out of his hands."
Gonzalez said there is no guarantee that the next time he swings at a 3-0 pitch, he'll crush it, but he'll be more selective.
"We're not hitting machines," Gonzalez said. "But I can't be doing that 3-0."
Jimenez making progress in recovery
PITTSBURGH -- Injured Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez threw a smooth bullpen session on Sunday morning at PNC Park, and unless something unforeseen happens, he'll pitch Wednesday in extended spring training at Scottsdale, Ariz.
Jimenez is on the 15-day disabled list with a cut on the cuticle on his right thumb. The location of the cut forced Jimenez to change his grip, a move that cost him velocity during the Rockies' 7-6, 11-inning loss to the D-backs on Opening Day. Jimenez, who won 19 games last season, gave up six runs and seven hits in six innings.
That means Greg Reynolds, who held the Pirates to two runs and three hits in six innings on Saturday night, will pitch again Thursday against the Mets at Citi Field.
Jimenez is eligible to return from the DL on April 17. He could return to the rotation for a home series against the Giants, starting on either April 18 or April 19.
When he returns, Jimenez will join a rotation that has done fine without him. Going into Sunday's start by righty Jhoulys Chacin against the Pirates, Rockies starters have given up two or fewer runs in five of the past six games. The starting staff entered Sunday holding opponents to a .201 batting average, by far the lowest in the NL. Starters were 4-0 with a 3.02 ERA, the third-best ERA in the league behind the Giants' 2.31 and the Pirates' 2.96.
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.