Mailbag: What's in store for Helton?
Beat reporter Thomas Harding answers Rox fans' questions
How well do you think Todd Helton will be doing by the end of the year?
-- Princewell A., Brighton, Colo.
History says he'll heat up in July and August, which means .300 to the mid .320s is possible for him. The caveat is Helton has to be reasonably healthy to do it. Recently, Helton has admitted he has not been 100 percent lately, although he hasn't revealed exactly why and says it's no excuse.
He's had to deal with back pain ever since the 2002 season, when he revealed that he had soft tissue damage. Since then, the power has diminished and it's hard to imagine it returning anywhere near his past numbers. I'm racking my brain and can't come up with the name of a power hitter who returned to his former homer productions after a significant back issue arose, and I've come up empty.
Despite the downturn in Helton's power, the lineup worked best last year with Helton batting cleanup, behind Matt Holliday, even though Holliday is the better power threat. Opposing managers continued to pitch to Holliday and pitch around Helton.
But it's looking like time to move Helton out of cleanup to a spot where he can hit for average and leave the power to others. I believe batting him second, especially with Willy Taveras hitting well and stealing bases, would make sense.
The issue is, however, what to do with the third and fourth spots.
In Holliday's career, he has slightly more at-bats at No. 3 (813) than cleanup (809), but he has been better at third in batting average (.332 to .325 at cleanup), home runs (46-40) and RBIs (170-149).
Going into last season, manager Clint Hurdle felt Garrett Atkins was ready for the No. 3 spot, but he hit .250 in 104 at-bats and wound up functioning much better at the fifth slot, where he hit .317.
Atkins' history says he's a good enough hitter for the third spot, but he'll have to start swinging better to justify such a move. He has hit .225 in his last 10 games and for the season is running at .220 with runners in scoring position and .152 in scoring position with two out.
When is Jason Hirsh due back in the Majors? How is his Triple-A rehab assignment going?
-- Cory H., La Habra, Calif.
The Rockies determined that the lack of a Spring Training has been a huge setback for Hirsh. He threw two innings in Tucson, Ariz., before suffering the rotator cuff strain that has kept him out of the Majors all season.
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The club recently pulled him off of a 30-day injury rehab assignment and optioned him to Colorado Springs, so he can build the volume the club believes he needs. In five starts so far, Hirsh is 0-1 with a 5.55 ERA and 16 walks against 13 strikeouts.
Whether coming off the bench, or making the spot start, Ryan Spilborghs has been outstanding. Hitting .301 with many memorable clutch hits so far in 2008, he seems too good to remain a backup outfielder for much longer. Are the Rockies holding onto him because he has yet to be eligible for arbitration or because he might be a valuable backup in case an outfielder trade arises before the deadline?
-- James S., Broomfield, Colo.
I doubt seriously the Rockies will trade one of their regular outfielders. They have Spilborghs because they need him. It was just about a month ago that Holliday and Brad Hawpe were on the disabled list at the same time, and a week and a half ago that Taveras was slumping. To contend, a team needs players in backup roles who are good enough to start.
With many teams needing closers, Brian Fuentes is a great target. If the Rockies see a great package for Fuentes, could we see Casey Weathers closing this year?
-- Phong H., Littleton, Colo.
I see Weathers making his debut this season, but I don't see him stepping into the closer role. I suspect that if the Rockies are within striking distance at the deadline, Fuentes will remain the club's closer. Fuentes could bring immediate help and the club would have to consider a good offer, but the club would have to assess the risk of changing closers at midstream without a slump involved.
If Fuentes isn't here, Manuel Corpas would more than likely step back into the ninth-inning role he held for the second half of last season.
Weathers will pitch in the Texas League All-Star Game. At 1-0 with a 2.37 ERA and one save (Ryan Mattheus leads the club with 12), Weathers has done nothing to leave the Rockies disappointed that they selected him in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft last summer.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.