Helton still on mend from injured back

MIAMI -- When trying to find the right spot for Todd Helton's return to the Colorado Rockies lineup, Rockies manager Jim Tracy is looking at two factors.

Most important is how Helton's balky back is feeling and responding.

The other is the daunting trio of opposing pitchers the Rockies are about to see.

Starting Wednesday, Colorado has a three-game stretch where it'll face three of the NL's top power pitchers -- Ricky Nolasco followed by Cy Young hopeful Josh Johnson on Thursday afternoon in Florida, then Roy Halladay on Friday night in Philadelphia. Combined they have an ERA of 2.80 and 363 strikeouts this season.

Not exactly the welcome party Tracy is seeking.

"With what it is that Todd's been dealing with, is that the best scenario to just fire him back into the fray? I don't know that's the smartest thing in the world to do," Tracy said Tuesday before Colorado visited the Marlins. "We'll keep monitoring the situation. ... But that's definitely something that's on my mind."

Helton is on the disabled list with a stiff back, and wasn't encouraged by a batting practice session he had Monday. For the season, Helton is hitting only .246 with two home runs and 16 RBIs.

Helton has said he's feeling better and has gotten treatment regularly.

"What I see right now and I know what I see in batting practice is markedly better than what I was seeing prior to him being put on the disabled list and knowing that we were dealing with something that was not allowing Todd Helton to be who he's capable of being," Tracy said. "But moving forward, am I smart enough to know that it's going to be fine? I don't know the answer to that."

Tracy said that when it's time to make the decision, he'll rely on both what he sees and what Helton tells him.

Helton is 4 for 10 in his career against Nolasco, but just 1 for 6 against Halladay and 0 for 4 against Johnson -- who leads the major leagues with a 1.62 ERA.

"It's foolish of me to just feel compelled to completely take the reins by yourself and say, 'Hey, this is what we're doing with you,' " Tracy said. "He knows himself as well or better than most players that you deal with. And when you look at the track record over the years, I think the guy deserves a little bit more respect than that."