08/12/07 4:05 PM ET
Notes: Helton feels ready to join party
First baseman feeling good, ready to get back in lineup
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
It was Helton's third straight game out of the lineup because of back spasms. But as the Rockies were piling up the runs in the late innings, he felt perfectly capable of joining the party.
"I came up to get ready to pinch-hit and felt really loose, felt fine," Helton said. "That's when I knew that I'd be ready to play the game. I started swinging and started feeling in really great shape."
The question is whether Helton maintains the feel he had in his last games, when he was 8-for-18 with eight RBIs and 5-for-6 with runners in scoring position. The surge, which included two home runs against the Brewers on Tuesday night, was a welcome upturn.
Helton has 11 home runs and a .300 batting average, and the Rockies will need him producing at a higher rate as they attempt to remain in NL West contention.
Lineup tweak: With center fielder Willy Taveras not starting for the fifth time in six games as he hopes his right quadriceps improve, the Rockies started Clint Barmes in center field.
Barmes was the starting shortstop in 2005 and much of 2006, but wound up at Triple-A Colorado Springs this year because of offensive inconsistency. Now the Rockies hope to take advantage of Barmes' athletic ability for a lift at various positions.
He provided a pinch-hit double and scored a run in Saturday night's victory. Although he is not starting, Barmes said he feels prepared to provide a spark when called upon.
"That's what this game is all about -- in the Minor Leagues at every level, we were on really good teams and competed right up until the end of the season," Barmes said. "That's what this game has been for me since Little League, and all the way through. You want to win."
No. 1 in the lineup: Rockies second baseman Kazuo Matsui had multiple hits in four straight games and hit safely in nine straight going into Sunday, when he was back at the top of the order with Taveras still out.
Matsui entered Sunday hitting .500 (18-for-36) in August.
Manager Clint Hurdle would prefer Taveras over Matsui, both of whom are speed threats, at the top of the order, but Matsui -- with the hot Troy Tulowitzki (12-for-24 the previous five games) batting second -- has kept the offense on track.
Matsui said his goal is to be a nuisance.
"I've been experienced batting first and batting second," Matsui said. "Hitting both places I want to be bad for the opponent. I just want to be up there bothering the opponent. If I hit and get on base, I'm helping the lineup more."
Almost back: All-Star left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes, who hasn't pitched for the Rockies since July 3 because of a strained lat muscle, could be back for the important road trip against the Padres and the Dodgers starting Tuesday.
Fuentes was to pitch out of the Colorado Springs bullpen on Sunday, and if he feels good Monday he'll make the trip.
In Fuentes' absence, right-hander Manny Corpas has gone 8-for-8 in save opportunities.
Fuentes, who blew four straight saves before the injury but is 20-for-26 this season, will pitch in other roles, at least initially. Hurdle declined to say when or whether he plans to move Fuentes back to the closer role.
"We've got a guy that's 8-for-8 in saves out there, and 'Tito' [Fuentes] has great experience closing," Hurdle said. "Wouldn't it be crazy if it plays out that you've got two guys capable of doing it? When one's not available, the other one is. We'll see how it plays out."
Up next: Left-hander Jeff Francis (13-5, 4.06 ERA) will open the three-game set against the Padres and righty Greg Maddux (7-9, 4.15) on Tuesday at PETCO Park at 8:05 p.m. MT.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.