Created on Saturday, 16 March 2013 Written by GARY SCHATZ,Associated Press
GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Todd Helton's sweet swing needs very few repetitions to regain its form.
Helton hit his first home run of the spring, a two-run shot off Johnny Cueto, to lead the Colorado Rockies to a 5-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.
The 39-year-old Helton had one hit in his first seven at-bats this spring before connecting for a two-run shot.
"It doesn't take long for a hitter like Todd to get ready. It doesn't take many at-bats," first-year manager Walt Weiss said. "He was sweet swinging for a long time to get back to feeling ready."
The Rockies have been working the 16-year veteran back into baseball shape slowly this spring.
Cueto became the first Reds pitcher to go six innings this spring. The right-hander appears to be fully recovered from the strained oblique that knocked him out of the Division Series against the Giants in October. He allowed three runs and five hits while striking out five and walking none.
"Cueto looked pretty good. He was animated because he wanted to be sharper," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He was kind of fighting himself. His stuff was good, it was a matter of location."
Cueto displayed his displeasure while he was in the game. After his outing, he felt better about it.
"I feel good," Cueto said. "I don't know how many pitches I had, 65-55, but I felt strong. I'm not feeling any pain. I'm ready for opening day. I've been working hard on my hitting."
Colorado's Jeff Francis gave up four hits, including a single to Cueto, in five scoreless innings against his former team.
Francis has been solid all spring, leading the Rockies with 17 1/3 innings pitched. He forced the Reds to hit into two double plays.
"The results were nice. I got away with some pitches early in the game," Francis said. "I was sharper the last two innings. I've had games like this where I got away with bad pitches early in the game and get a second chance."
Francis was a candidate for the Cincinnati rotation last spring. He exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to be a free agent if he wasn't on the Reds' roster by a certain date. The Rockies organization brought him back to the team for which he won 17 games in 2007.
"I was fighting for a job last year. I was still going out to get people out. There just was not a spot for me last year," Francis said.
This spring he seems in control.
"To me it looked like Francis was in control of the at-bats," Weiss said. "It's looked like that for much of spring training. That's a strong statement to say a pitcher is in complete control of the at-bats. That's what it looked like to me."
Dexter Fowler doubled to open the game for Colorado and came around to score on two ground outs.
Ben Paulsen hit a two-run home run off Armando Galarraga.
NOTES: Helton went 4 for 4 in a minor league game on Thursday with a home run and two RBI. ... RHP Joe Gardner, Will Harris and Josh Sullivan were optioned to minor league camp. IF Ryan Wheeler and OF Tim Wheeler were optioned to minor league camp. The Rockies have 52 players remaining on the spring training roster, including 18 non-roster invitees. ... Reds 1B Neftali Soto left the game in the top of the second with a mildly strained quadriceps after he doubled. ... Cueto, the first Reds pitcher to bat this spring, singled in his first plate appearance Friday. He was the only pitcher to bat on March 4 in the game in which Baker and Kirk Gibson disagreed on the DH before the game. Cueto was instructed not to swing the bat. ... The Reds' starting pitchers worked the equivalent of six games (43 2/3 innings) without allowing a home run but have allowed one each in the last two games.