All work, no play for Helton

All work, no play for Helton

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Rockies' 4-1 victory over the Mariners on Tuesday was done in a speedy 2 hours, 8 minutes. But from the way Todd Helton stomped down the first-base line after each of his three infield bouncers, it was clear it would be a long day for him.

Helton was replaced after the sixth inning, as is customary Spring Training treatment for a five-time All-Star and former National League batting champion. But he didn't feel all that decorated after striking out swinging, grounding to shortstop for a double play and grounding to second.

So at game's end, there was Helton in the dugout beside bench coach Jamie Quirk discussing what went wrong. Within minutes, Helton was back on the field, sweating, grunting and swinging, with Quirk throwing pitches to problem areas.

Marcus Giles joined him. Matt Holliday came out later. But if Helton hadn't felt so bad at the plate, there would have been no cage dragged out behind home plate at Hi Corbett Field, and no extra hitting session.

When he completed his extra practice, he graciously stopped to discuss it but made it clear he didn't have time for small talk. Like anyone else, Helton, 34, appreciated the quick game and wanted to get home and enjoy what was left of the day.

But he also wanted to feel good about leaving.

"My swing didn't feel right, I needed to get a little work," Helton said. "That's why we're here, to get better.

"My bat felt really slow in the game. So, hopefully, I got it fixed. I wasn't in a powerful position, and I was trying to feel that."

With 20 days left before the season opener against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, Helton has a .318 Cactus League batting average with one double and two RBIs. He's had worse numbers at this point of springs past.

Helton has come to grips that back problems, which have bothered him for years, will prevent him from anything approaching his 49 home runs in 2001.

But he hit .320 last season and had a .434 on-base percentage. Too many Cactus League days like Tuesday and he'll be stuck with a swing and an approach incapable of reaching such numbers. Helton won't take that.

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"I really don't care for another week [of poor swings]," Helton said. "Then after that, you've got to be a little more comfortable at the plate. There's just no panic yet. But you're here to get your work done and get better.

So Helton asked Quirk to throw a series of balls to specific areas of the plate, and took his cuts. The results picked up as he progressed.

So did he find answers?

"I felt a little bit better," Helton said. "The ball's still not coming off the bat."

He has time to correct the problems. He's already making the most of it.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.