DENVER -- As the Rockies prepare to play just their fourth game in six days, Todd Helton will be out of the lineup for the second time in that span.
A perennial iron man, who in 2009 logged his ninth season with over 151 games, Helton has missed eight games in the season's first six weeks, including the opener of Saturday's doubleheader. Former MVP Jason Giambi will start in place of Helton and hit fifth.
"We switched out Giambi and Todd Helton because Todd was not feeling well at all last night," manager Jim Tracy said Saturday morning. "He was vomiting all night. So he's the most recent guy to grab hold of whatever it was that we found our way to grab hold of on the road."
The Rockies were hit with a bug on their recent West Coast road trip, with several team members suffering, including Tracy himself, Miguel Olivo, Ubaldo Jimenez, and, most notably, Rafael Betancourt, who went eight days between appearances as a result of illness. Helton also missed a start due to flu-like symptoms on the previous homestand.
"I was told this morning he's feeling much better," Tracy said. "But if we were going to not play him both ends of the doubleheader, which I wasn't going to, we'd be in better shape if we moved him back to the second game, instead of the first game, and allow him to get some food back in him and regain some strength. He feels much better. However, whatever it is, it got him too."
Giambi started for Helton on Monday, after the team got back from the road trip, and went 3-for-4 with three RBIs to raise his average by 101 points and break out of his 2-for-22 early-season slump.
Rockies' bats show signs of power surge
DENVER -- With temperatures soaring into the 50s on Saturday for the first time since Monday, the Rockies hope to see their bats heat up, as well, as they take on the Nationals in a day-night doubleheader. They got off to a strong start when Jason Giambi homered on a 1-1 curveball in the second inning of Game 1, which the Rockies won, 6-2.
The club has suffered a bit of a power outage at the plate this spring, with slugging first baseman Todd Helton homerless and 13 of the team's 30 home runs entering the day coming from two players, Miguel Olivo (7) and Ian Stewart (6). Olivo then went deep in the opener Saturday, giving Colorado the lead with a solo shot to center off Livan Hernandez in the fourth inning.
"Those type of things go in waves," manager Jim Tracy said. "[In Wednesday's game], it was 6-1 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, and then you looked up a second later, it was 6-4, and we had two outs and two guys on. That's the way our offense used to hit last year."
Tracy believes in the "contagious" nature of hitting, and he is seeing signs of a team on the verge of getting hot at the plate.
"I really liked what I saw of Troy Tulowitzki's swings [Thursday]," Tracy said while waiting out the rain Friday. "We just got [Brad Hawpe] back a few days ago. Stewart's been swinging the bat well. Miguel Olivo made an adjustment in the last couple days and has a couple home runs and six or seven hits in the last two days. It's going to be OK."
Tracy is looking to Olivo to help set the tone. The catcher is 8-for-12 since Wednesday, rebounding from a 2-for-24 stretch at the plate. Over the last three games, Olivo has three homers and five RBIs.
"I don't think he's walking to home plate trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark," Tracy said. "He just has a very consistent approach, with the bat in the hitting area for a long period of time, and so, as a result, he gets base hits, he drives in some runs. Every once in a while, he hits one a lot better than the line drive he was going to hit, and it goes halfway up into the bleachers to win you a game one day, and the next night, he hits the garage door back behind the left-field wall. That's what I'm looking for."
Young fractures leg, will be re-evaluated
DENVER -- Although he played four innings with a broken leg on Wednesday, it's safe to say that Eric Young Jr. won't be doing any baseball activity for the next couple weeks. Thursday morning, he had X-rays on his leg, and the Rockies discovered he had an acute stress fracture of his tibia.
"Eric Young will be re-X-rayed in two weeks," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said before the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, a 6-2 win over the Nationals. "We'll have a better idea as to the total amount of time that we are going to be without his services. In the meantime, he's in the training room, and they're running that bone stimulator machine."
Young went on the disabled list between games of the doubleheader, making room on the roster for Jason Hammel, who returned from a groin injury to start the second game. While waiting for the second set of X-rays, Young will likely stay near the Major League training staff with limited activity.
"I'll probably stay here for a little bit and just rehab," Young said. "I'm just going with what [head athletic trainer Keith Dugger] is saying. Just be ready to go. Come to the field every day and do my treatment. Whenever they say, 'Let's go,' I'm ready."
The fracture is at the top of Young's shin and came while rounding second base in a game against the Phillies on Wednesday. Because of the location of the injury, Young has the potential to aggravate it when sliding.
"As far as physical baseball activity, swinging and stuff like that, my guess is [that Young will] be shut down with that, from the standpoint of the leg," Tracy said. "The decision as to where they go with the activity will be determined when they get him back in there and redo that X-ray and see where he's at."
The Rockies were content to keep the unavailable Young on their 25-man roster for Thursday's game and the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, not wanting to burn a roster move for a couple games when the mostly likely callup, Triple-A infielder Jonathan Herrera, is out of options and would be exposed to a waiver claim when he would have been sent back to Colorado Springs.
Hammel returns to the Rockies as part of a one-two punch to restore two of the three projected members of the starting rotating who have been on the DL for all or part of the season. His homecoming will be followed by the return of Jeff Francis, who will start Sunday. Hammel suffered a groin strain when he last pitched for the Rockies on April 27. He has missed 18 days and made a rehab start in Triple-A on May 7, pitching seven innings of four-run ball, allowing nine hits and a walk while striking out six.
Hammel is determined to turn his season around after compiling an 0-2 record and a 9.16 ERA in his first four starts. He won 10 games for the Rockies in his first season with the club in 2009, but will need to regain his form to keep his spot in the rotation.
Tracy sorting pieces of bullpen puzzle
DENVER -- There are two sets of four deep indentations on the bench of the Rockies' dugout that are a perfect match for manager Jim Tracy's fingernails. Watching his bullpen wade through a seven-run eighth inning on Thursday in abysmal playing conditions was Tracy's version of white-knuckling it.
"I was hanging onto this dugout bench with my fingernails stuck in the wood when [Rafael Betancourt] had to go out there and pitch," Tracy said before Saturday's doubleheader.
With Huston Street, who has yet to pitch in the regular season, on the comeback trail from right shoulder inflammation, Tracy didn't want to lose any other cogs in his bullpen.
"You know that your closer that you haven't had since Opening Day is getting closer [to returning from the disabled list], and the last thing you want to see is somebody hurt themselves on the field that we were playing on a couple of nights ago, where now you get your ninth-inning guy back, but you've lost you're eighth-inning guy."
Unlike past years, the Rockies know the various pieces of their bullpen puzzle, but, since breaking camp in Tucson, Ariz., they have yet to have all their pieces in the right place. Street's replacement, Franklin Morales, joined him in rehab earlier this week with left shoulder inflammation.
It's made for a juggling act for Tracy, who has gone back to Manuel Corpas, the club's closer in parts of 2007 and 2008, for the ninth inning. Tracy has deployed Betancourt in the eight to build the bridge to Corpas, with Matt Daley, Matt Belisle, and lefties Joe Beimel and Randy Flores chipping in. With disabled starters Jason Hammel and Jeff Francis returning to the rotation on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, fill-in starters Greg Smith and Esmil Rodgers are transitioning to roles as long men in the 'pen.
"My idea of a bullpen that functions at maximum capability is having people in place that make sense for them and not extending them beyond that," Tracy said as he expressed caution with using Smith in relief for the first time in his five-year professional career. "The situation has to present itself that makes sense for Greg Smith, because I'm not going to pull [him] out of the bullpen, because I can't wait to see him in this left-on-left situation. I don't do things like that."
Tracy has been forced out of his comfort zone while making his 'pen puzzle work without all the pieces available. He has asked his relief corps to deliver a little more than dictated by their anticipated job description.
"We're trying to maximize what we have in there right now," Tracy said. "The guys that build the bridges leading up to the back end of the game, let's face it, for the most part, they've been terrific. And they've been asked to do it more than just often. At the back end of the game, there's been some uncertainty. There's been an unknown at times.
"We've pushed some people into areas that are somewhat new to them. We've had to try to make adjustments, because we've been constantly trying to move some things around, to do what's right for the given situation. As of late, there was a situation in Los Angeles, and one in San Diego, where, once we got back into that area, I was in full blown doing it by committee and matching up our pitchers' stuff that made the most sense for the hitter."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.