WASHINGTON -- The pains are increasing for Rockies first baseman Todd Helton as his playing time decreases.

Helton started Sunday against the Nationals. It was his first time in the starting lineup since Wednesday at St. Louis. Helton has had to work through back problems for years, and lately his right hip has bothered him.

"I'm sore," Helton said Sunday morning. "The hip is probably worse than the back. But it's nothing I can't push through."

The pain and season-long swing difficulties have limited Helton to a .239 batting average, seven home runs and 34 RBIs going into Sunday. Helton, 38, entered Sunday with a career .309 average at the All-Star break.

With this year and next year left on his lengthy contract, Helton was hoping to provide something close to normal production from the No. 5 spot in the lineup. It hasn't happened. The Rockies also entered Sunday with a 32-52 record, although that had to do mostly with starting pitching and not Helton or the offense.

"It has been very frustrating," Helton said. "I can say that the good part is these guys show up every day ready to play. It's a good group of guys in here. Losing still stinks, but we still have the same goals that we had at the beginning of the season.

"... We haven't done a good job of putting wins together. It's like, 'Here we go,' then we'd go right back to the same thing."

Helton has not been able to pull pitches, and he is not making hard contact.

"Physical turns into mental once you're a little limited in what you can do you feel you have to make it up a little in other aspects," Helton said.

As Helton has rested, outfielder-first baseman Tyler Colvin has made a strong case for regular playing time. When Colvin is in the outfield, manager Jim Tracy often moves Michael Cuddyer from right field to first base. Colvin also has played some first base.

As a result, Helton has not made three straight starts since June 24-26. He has played in just five of the 12 games since.

"I think it will be very beneficial not only to play today, but then to take four more days off and see where it takes us," Tracy said. "I don't think Todd's situation will change dramatically from the standpoint of hoping to see him get his swing back. I'd like to think that we're going to get to revisit that.

"That being said, does that change the fact that I can just jump in that saddle and start riding him unmercifully? You won't be able to do that. That part won't change. Bringing him back day games after night games in the heat of the summer and things like that? We're going to have to be very mindful of that."

Helton heads into the break hoping to rest, spend time with his family, and do some maintenance exercises, but there is no guarantee what will happen when action resumes Friday at home against the Phillies.

"It all depends on my body," Helton said. "But hopefully I'll be able to come back, get healthier and help this team out. I love playing baseball. I don't love watching baseball. I want to get back out there and play."

Nursing ankle, Rockies' Nelson eager for break

WASHINGTON -- Just as he was establishing himself as a solid contributor at the lower part of the Rockies' lineup, infielder Chris Nelson suffered a right ankle injury that has affected his numbers and reduced his playing time.

Nelson twisted the ankle making a play against the Rangers on June 23. A career-best seven-game hit streak during which he hit .423 with two doubles and two homers ended two days later. In the seven games leading to Sunday, Nelson started just three of them and was 2-for-18 with one double and one RBI.

Nelson, who was on the Opening Day roster this year for the first time in his career, has played second base and third base. While trying to hobble through his injury -- swelling worked its way from his ankle to his heel -- Nelson has been used as a defensive replacement for Jordan Pacheco at third base late in games.

The All-Star break comes at a welcome time.

"This is good for a few people on the team, so I'm excited about it," Nelson said. "We were just trying to get to this All-Star break. When it felt good, I could go out there, but it's been touch-and-go, really. I've been trying to ignore it, but sometimes it gets a little bad."

Two injuries have contributed to two slumps. Nelson had a .219 batting average while playing through a wrist injury before he finally went to the disabled list in mid-May and missed 14 games. His average reached a high of .275. He has dropped to .256.

Pacheco entered Sunday hitting .297 in regular starts at third, but he's not exactly healthy. He has been playing through sore right quadriceps. Manager Jim Tracy said both could come back from the break close to totally healthy.