CHICAGO -- Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez surveyed a stack of blank lineup cards in the Rockies clubhouse, wondering how many the team fills out on a given night. The lineup card usually isn't his concern, since his name tends to be a fixture on it. But not Tuesday night.
Gonzalez, last year's National League batting champion, went 0-for-4 on Monday night, and his hitless streak extended to 21 at-bats. His average has dropped so far he said it's " .2-whatever ... I don't want to know what it is."
For those interested, which includes Rockies fans, fantasy owners and his entire home country of Venezuela, Gonzalez is hitting .217, with one home run and 14 RBIs. Gonzalez was well aware that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's team-leading RBI figure was 16, and only his own slump is keeping it from being higher.
However, Gonzalez had two reasons to relax and smile.
No. 1, Gonzalez, hitting coach Carney Lansford and manager Jim Tracy spotted a flaw on video. On his leg kick, he was not rotating his upper body and not turning his front shoulder just right. The result is poor timing and a pull-hitter's swing. Gonzalez succeeds when hitting up the middle. A session in the batting cage at Wrigley Field on Tuesday afternoon had Lansford smiling.
No. 2, the Rockies entered Tuesday 15-7 and leading the NL West by four games over the Dodgers.
"It's going to come. I'm really glad it's still April, and I'm really glad the team is playing well," Gonzalez said. "It's not like a lot of pressure, because the team's not winning. We played really bad yesterday and we still got the 'W' [5-3 over the Cubs], but they played worse. So we're having a good time. We're lucky."
Tracy said it was simply a good time for a night off. The Cubs started left-hander Jeff Russell, but that was not the overriding factor in the decision.
"It's basically an opportunity to get him away and let him clear his head a little bit," Tracy said. "Because when he's right, it doesn't matter which hand the glove is on. We'll plug him back in there tomorrow against [Cubs right-hander Casey] Coleman."
Gonzalez's slump has lasted six games. The longest he went without a hit last year was four games. At that point, he dropped from .322 to .303, so the dry spell wasn't so glaring. Tulowitzki noted that an April slump is different. Tulowitzki entered Tuesday hitting .317, but has struggled in past Aprils.
"I'm the right guy to talk to with this whole thing that's going on," Tulowitzki said. "You go through stretches like this in the season, but when you don't have that batting average that moves two or three points when you're in a 1-for-15, 1-for-20, it makes it tough because everybody starts paying attention.
"For him, I honestly believe it's just a matter of time. Yesterday, we got into a little conversation about it and I said, 'You'll do fine. I go through this every year.' It just kind of happens sometimes and there are other guys that are good players that are struggling. Hanley Ramirez is another one; We just got done playing [the Marlins]. He wishes he had Carlos' numbers."
Gonzalez insisted his seven-year, $80 million contract, or an attempt to live up to it, is not the cause of the slow start.
"I'm really glad it's a long season," he said. "You have opportunities to get better. You have opportunities to fail and learn from your mistakes. That's baseball."Gonzalez entered as a defensive replacement in left field in the eighth inning Tuesday's 4-3 victory. He grounded out to first base in the ninth, running his streak to 0-for-22.
Helton a nice substitute at No. 3 in the lineup
CHICAGO -- Rockies manager Jim Tracy gave the slumping Carlos Gonzalez a night off Tuesday, but didn't have to fret much about his choice for the important No. 3 spot in the lineup.
Todd Helton held that role with distinction for several seasons. Helton, hitting .310 entering play and running up pitch counts with competitive at-bats, was an easy choice to move up from the fifth position.
"That's a pretty good name to put in there," Tracy said. "Todd Helton is in a really good place. When you get people in a really good place, I don't like to disrupt that. And yet we have four other guys in the lineup tonight that are hitting under .200 [Jose Lopez, Ty Wigginton, Ryan Spilborghs and Chris Iannetta]. So in order to give them the best chance to [right] themselves, who's the next guy to put in there? A potential Hall of Famer is a pretty good choice."
Helton said it's not a huge deal to move into the No. 3 spot for a night.
"A three-hole hitter is the focal point in the lineup, if that's the right word," Helton said. "But you'd like your three-hole hitter to run a little bit more than I can run. But I don't care, either way. I've always said, 'As long as I'm not hitting ninth.' I know it's not good writing material, but it's true."Helton got the Rockies off to a quick start during Tuesday's 4-3 victory, with a two-out solo home run in the first inning. He then hit his third home run of the season, another solo shot, in the top of the fifth for his first multihomer game since Aug. 7, 2007, against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Wigginton getting acclimated to new league
CHICAGO -- Rockies utility man Ty Wigginton entered Tuesday night hitting .196 but felt closer to finding a groove. His biggest project has been studying pitchers, after spending the last two seasons with the Orioles.
"It's just getting to learn pitchers again," Wigginton said. "How are they going to approach me? You try to look at pitchers [throwing to hitters] similar to you on video and study how they go after them. But at the same time, as I see the guys more and more, it becomes a lot easier.
"It's getting there. It's just a matter of time. I'm not hitting the panic button just yet. It's early in the season."
Rockies hitting coach Carney Lansford also said Wigginton seems in a good place with his swing. Lansford noted that Wigginton has been dealing with calf soreness, but Wigginton discounts that as a factor.
"The last thing you're ever going to hear me say is it has anything to do with an injury," Wigginton said. "I was able to play. I was able to go out there and perform."Wigginton hit his second homer in the fourth inning on Tuesday to give the Rockies a 3-2 lead en route to their 4-3 victory over the Cubs.
Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook, who hasn't pitched this season because of a broken right ring finger suffered in Spring Training, threw a 60-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday at the team's complex in Scottsdale, Ariz. With the finger healed, Cook is in what manager Jim Tracy called "Spring Training mode."
On Saturday, Cook will throw 50 pitches, the first 15 to batters. Cook will join the Rockies during their trip to Arizona next week and face hitters on Wednesday before the game with the D-backs as he continues building up to a Minor League rehab assignment and, eventually, a return to the Majors.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said the unusual roster configuration of 13 pitchers -- one more than the team usually carries -- hasn't hurt the club. But, at some point, he'll consider swapping a pitcher for a position player.
The Rockies called up reliever Clayton Mortensen on April 18. He has made two scoreless appearances since. During his first, on the day of the callup, he went six relief innings and saved the bullpen in a loss to the Giants when starter Esmil Rogers struggled.
Tracy said the only time the short roster of hitters had any effect was when he was forced to use left-handed-hitting Seth Smith against Giants lefty Jonathan Sanchez.
On Mortensen, Tracy said, "He will create more chances for us to win having him than having that extra player. But we will get to the point where that extra player does become necessary."
The stats for left-hander Rex Brothers are sparkling -- 10 innings, no earned runs, 18 strikeouts against three walks at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Brothers, the team's supplemental first-round pick in 2009, is almost doing too well.
Tracy noted that a bad stretch isn't necessarily bad.
"It's not a bad thing for somebody to get knocked off his horse and have to get back up again," Tracy said. "Maybe a little experience of that there first -- not that I think he'd be interested in it -- if it happens, let's see what type of resolve we have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and go from there.
"He's a big leaguer, OK. And he's going to be a big leaguer, and a real good one for a long period of time."
Rockies right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom entered with two on and one out in the sixth inning of Monday's 5-3 victory over the Cubs, and preserved the two-run cushion by registering five outs.
Being able to use Lindstrom, the Astros' closer at the start of last year, in the middle innings has helped the bullpen, Tracy said.
"To have a guy that comes from another organization that's been a closer, that you're asking to work in front of a couple of guys that have been here for a couple of years as a setup man and closer, and unselfishly say, 'I want to do whatever it is that needs to be done to give us a chance to win,' that tells you an awful lot about that person," Tracy said.
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.