Houston (19-9) at Colorado (16-13)

Heavy Rain Currently: Denver, CO, US
Temp: 72° F
  • Game info: 9:05 pm EDT Fri May 5, 2006
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Phil Garner: Video We want Clemens back in Houston

Todd Helton has seen how well the Colorado Rockies have played during his absence. Now he’s eager to rejoin them.

Helton is expected be back in the lineup when the Rockies open a three-game series with the Houston Astros Friday at Coors Field.

Helton was hitting .347 with one homer and nine RBIs in 49 at-bats when hospitalized last month with an intestinal infection and was placed on the disabled list on April 22. He missed 14 games, has lost strength and stamina but said he’s in “pretty good shape.”

“There’s always doubt when you’re not out there doing it every day,” Helton said. “Baseball is a game where you are fighting with doubt even when you’re playing. I’m ready to play. I’m ready to get out there and see what happens. I’m usually out there making adjustments on the fly anyway.”

Helton returned to the dugout Thursday and praised his teammates, who went 8-6 without him, including a 5-4 mark on the road. Colorado (16-13) is tied with Arizona atop the National League West.

“The team has played well. I’m a big fan of them,” Helton said. “Not just of the results of the game but it’s fun watching the way they are playing.”

The Rockies also are looking forward to getting Helton back on the field.

“Todd is our rock. He is the guy we look to in the lineup. We did well without him, but our lineup can only be better with him,” outfielder Cory Sullivan said

The Rockies lost 7-1 to Cincinnati on Thursday, splitting the two-game series. Brad Hawpe scored in the second inning on Danny Ardoin’s groundout for Colorado, which scored just four runs in the two games at hitter-friendly Coors.

Closer Brian Fuentes missed Thursday’s game and will also be absent for Friday’s series opener. He and his wife are expected to finalize the adoption of a child.

The Astros (19-9) are off to the best start in franchise history and have won three straight, including Thursday’s 4-3 win over St. Louis. Lance Berkman hit a two-run homer and Willy Taveras hit an RBI single for Houston, which improved to 10-1 in one-run games.

Berkman has hit safely in 11 of the last 12 games and has at least one RBI in nine straight.

Rookie Taylor Buchholz (2-1, 2.05 ERA) will look to keep Houston’s winning streak alive. He won his second straight start on Sunday, allowing two runs and three hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 3-2 victory over the Reds.

Buchholz, who has not faced Colorado, has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his five outings—including three starts. He had a 15 1-3-inning scoreless streak snapped in the sixth inning Sunday.

Colorado will counter with Byung-Hyun Kim (1-0, 1.35), who allowed one run and five hits in 6 2-3 innings in his season debut on Sunday, a 3-1 win over Florida.

Kim, who started the season on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, struck out a career-best nine batters.

“I just wanted to go out there and attack the hitters,” Kim said. “I threw a lot of strikes.”

Kim is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in 13 career appearances, including two starts, against the Astros.

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Starting Pitchers

T. Buchholz NYM vs. B. Kim SF
6-10 Record 8-12
5.89 ERA 5.57
77 K 129
34 BB 61
1.25 WHIP 1.55