The assumption was only half correct. It was generally believed that Todd Helton? played only four times in September, and not once in the last three weeks, because the Rockies were afterthought in the standings.

No sense in risking his aching back for meaningless games. Truth is, he wasn't capable of playing. Even if the Rockies were contending, he would have been on the bench. That's the bad news. The good news is that he hasn't had any back issues this offseason, increasing optimism that he will be able to duplicate his bounce-back performance.

"I have been working out. There have been no problems," said Helton, who has once again incorporated P90X training and heavy lifting. "I am fine."

General manager Dan O'Dowd was concerned in late September. Helton, after all, is 38 years old. But after seeing the first baseman's recovery he believes he will get similar production. Helton hit .302 with a .385 on-base percentage, 14 home runs and 69 RBIs a year ago.