05/07/09 1:36 AM ET
Helton leads Rockies' attack vs. Giants
Jimenez turns in best outing of season
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
Yorvit Torrealba and Clint Barmes coaxed a pair of walks out of the Big Unit to open the bottom of the third, and Ubaldo Jimenez dropped a well-executed bunt toward third to advance the runners. Rookie Dexter Fowler followed with a deep fly to right-center, plating Torrealba and giving the Rockies a hitless rally for the early lead.
After Todd Helton, the lone left-hander in the lineup against Johnson, got the Rockies' first hit in the fourth, Colorado busted out a hit parade in the fifth as Matt Murton and Torrealba combined for back-to-back homers to open the inning en route to a 10-run win over the Giants that saw 13 hits from the Rockies in a five-inning span.
"He helped us out with a couple walks," Helton said of Johnson's subpar performance and the Rockies' ability to touch him in the third, fifth and sixth innings. "He's still a really good pitcher. He just left some balls over the middle of the plate. He's so hard to pick up. Ninety-two [mph] still feels like 98 to me. He definitely still has it, as he had it the last game he pitched against us."
The Rockies drove Johnson from the game in the sixth, loading the bases and plating four runs on a run-scoring single from Torrealba, a two-run double from Barmes and, after Johnson was out of the game, an RBI single from Jimenez.
"That's always going to be good for your offense," manager Clint Hurdle said of the welcome explosion from his lineup. "We've had 11 victories and in seven of them we scored nine runs or more. The ability to ignite is there, but it's the consistency that we're striving to be better with, throughout the lineup and throughout games, so the gaps aren't as big when we're scoring a lot and when we're not scoring. Find some consistency."
The model of consistency at this point in the season has been Helton, who extended his hitting streak to nine games with his three-hit outing, capped by a towering home run into the Rockies' right-field bullpen on the 14th pitch of an epic at -bat.
"When he came back after that at-bat, I got goose bumps," Hurdle said. "That's one to put in the vault. He's showing that ability again to grind, to foul off pitches. I don't even understand that concept: a pitch I don't like, to be able to foul it off and get rid of it. I was real good at putting that ball in play consistently for outs, so I can't relate to that. We've seen some things now that are starting to happen now, for a long period of time, a volume of time for him, and it's exciting to watch."
Helton raised his average to .360 with his 3-for-4 night, his 11th multi-hit game in his last 14. After an injury-plagued season in 2008 that ended with back surgery two days after the final game, it was fair to wonder if the Rockies were poised for a transition in leadership from within the clubhouse.
But Helton has shown he can still carry this team, whether breaking through against Johnson with a single to open the floodgates or launching an exclamatory home run to seal an insurmountable lead and lift up his teammates.
"My job is to go out there and see if I can," Helton said in reference to his ability to lead the lineup with his bat. "I don't know. Never said I could. I try to. I go out there and play first base and try to put some good swings on the ball and be a good teammate. That's all I can do."
The outburst was more than enough for Jimenez (2-4), who had his best outing of the year, holding the Giants to three hits through the first seven innings of shutout baseball while striking out six and walking one. He had pinpoint control, and his big breaking curve had the Giants missing awkwardly throughout the evening.
The outing rivaled Jimenez's first start of the season in Arizona, when he went seven shutout innings for the win while striking out eight.
"I feel better tonight than the first game, because I know it's two straight games going seven innings," Jimenez said, referencing his most recent start when he went seven innings against Johnson in San Francisco and gave up three runs in a losing effort. "The first game I went seven innings, but [the start] after that I didn't even make it through four innings."
Jimenez has been finetuning his mechanics while enduring a three-start stretch when he couldn't complete the fifth inning. The slow return to form has been as much a matter of restoring his confidence as restoring command of his fastball.
"We're starting to see the sequences that we saw the second half of last season," Hurdle said. "Fastball percent usage spiked about 90 percent, fastball both sides of the plate, secondary pitches that he put in play and had command of."
With his command back, Jimenez got two-thirds of his outs with the strikeout (six) and the groundout (eight).
"Just being able to stay back and locate the fastball" was the key, according to Jimenez. "I was able to locate the fastball inside and away, so the hitters were guessing. They didn't know what was coming. They looked really bad every time I threw the breaking ball."
Jimenez finally came down to earth in the eighth, yielding a leadoff single to Emmanuel Burriss and a ground-rule double to pinch-hitter Eugenio Velez before giving way to the bullpen, who closed the game with six consecutive outs.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.