SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Todd Helton had a rude awakening when he rolled into the Rockies' clubhouse Thursday morning and saw his name atop the lineup card, batting leadoff against Reds fireballing left-hander Aroldis Chapman.
Helton wasn't supposed to play in games until this weekend or thereabouts as he works back from hip surgery without overdoing it in the extended Cactus League season.
"I told him I was going to roll him out there to face 102 [mph] on February 28th for his first at-bat," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.
"I was ready to go," countered Helton.
The decoy lineup came down and the real one was posted with Eric Young Jr. hitting leadoff and Helton remaining on pace for the weekend.
The Rockies went down in order during Chapman's two innings, with nobody getting a ball past the infield dirt.
"He kind of reminded me of Randy Johnson with that slider that disappears," Weiss said. "It's a tough at-bat. I thought our guys battled pretty well against some tough counts."
Nicasio sharp in two innings against Reds
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Juan Nicasio made tremendous strides between his first two starts of the spring, moving from an eventful 1 1/3 innings of four-run ball in his first outing to two perfect frames Thursday on his second trip to the hill.
"The last time I threw a lot of fastballs that jumped everywhere," Nicasio said. "Today, I felt better because if I wanted to throw my fastball inside, my fastball went inside. I had command. Every pitch today I threw close to the zone."
Nicasio stuck mostly to fastballs, throwing three changeups and two sliders among his 24 pitches, 17 of which went for strikes. He struck out the first and last batter he faced and induced groundouts from the four Reds he faced in between.
"He did a really nice job," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He was down. His slider was really sharp. He's got plenty of stuff. He's just one of those guys whose got to be in good counts, and if he is, he's going to be very effective, because his stuff is very good."
Catcher Ramon Hernandez noted that Nicasio mostly stayed ahead of the hitters.
Nicasio has shown great promise in two seasons cut shot by injuries, and as he strives for a healthy season, Hernandez emphasized the importance of forging a consistent and clear character on the mound.
"He has to get to know himself better," Hernandez said. "He needs to learn how to pitch when he's in a tough situation. What is the pitch you're going to throw in a tough spot? What pitch do you trust when you're in a jam or when you're behind in the count?"
Nicasio is working on the answers.
Arenado's quick thinking leads to triple play
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Third-base prospect Nolan Arenado had a big day Thursday, doubling in a run to give the Rockies the early lead, then a half-inning later starting a heads-up triple play on a one-hopper toward the line.
With Jeff Francis pitching his third inning of the day and having allowed a pair of leadoff singles to open the frame, Arenado -- the Rockies' No. 2 prospect -- grabbed a grounder off the bat of Zack Cozart on the bounce, stepped on third base, fired to Eric Young Jr. at second, and watched Young turn and throw beautifully off-balance to catch Cozart by a half step when Henry Wrigley snared the ball at first.
"You don't see that very often," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Nice awareness by Nolan, first to go to the bag, and then the throw to second instead of just going across to first."
It was the perfect escape from the mounting jam Francis was facing on the bases, and he had no doubt about the outcome.
"I knew it was a triple play as soon as he caught it," Francis said. "Just because it was a one-hopper to his right. I know Cozart runs pretty well, but I just said, 'No way, this is happening.' I called it. I said to myself, 'Well, this will be nice.'"
Weiss made no such claim of prognostication, but upon hearing of Francis' prescience said, "Well, I'll have to take him to the track.
"When you're trying to get double plays, maybe every once in a while you get a triple play. Good things happen down there."
Arenado is likely to start the season with Triple-A after climbing the ladder from Casper to Asheville, Modesto, and Tulsa over the last four years, but for the second consecutive spring, he is raising eyebrows and expectations.
"He's already made an impression with a lot of people in our organization that have been around him," Weiss said. "He's put himself in a nice position. He's shown that he can play. I wasn't around him last spring, but it looks to me like he's slowing the game down, and his ability is showing up."
Another scoreless outing for lefty Francis
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Though he allowed a leadoff double in the fourth inning after he and Juan Nicasio had combined for three innings of perfect baseball, Jeff Francis maintained a perfect 0.00 Cactus League ERA after his second appearance of the spring Thursday.
Francis threw three innings, getting six of his outs on grounders, two on a pair of fly balls, and adding a strikeout out while yielding three hits.
"I threw a lot of strikes," Francis said. "I made a couple mistakes that got hit for base hits there in the [fifth] inning, but the guys made plays behind me, like usual. I was ahead in the count, for the most part."
One play that began with a one-hopper to third resulted in three outs before you could say "Arenado-to-Young-to-Wrigley." With two on and no out, Francis coaxed a triple-play grounder out of Zack Cozart.
"Three outs with one pitch? That's a good one," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "I'll have to put that in the playbook.
"Jeff did what he does. For the most part, he pitches off the barrel, pitches to soft contact."
The veteran left-hander was focused on working inside to right-handed hitters, and found even more success than in his first outing, a scoreless two innings with two hits allowed.
"It's just a matter of executing it, making pitches at the right time," Francis said regarding his velocity, which he feels is relatively irrelevant. "It's funny. As a pitcher, it's one speed. I don't feel like I throw any softer than anyone else, but I do. If the ball goes where I want it to, it feels like I'm throwing it pretty hard, but then I look up and it's 85 [mph]."
Friedrich welcomes longer spring schedule
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When it comes to embracing this year's elongated Spring Training schedule, Rockies left-hander Christian Friedrich may be first in line to welcome the extra time.
After suffering a stress fracture in his back which shut down his rookie season last July and a subsequent setback when he experienced back stiffness before camp opened in February, Friedrich is eager to join the competition for a spot in the rotation.
"That's what you come into camp to do, to prove and compete with the guys for that fifth spot somehow, some way," Friedrich said Thursday. "I hope I'm not too far behind. I'll worry about that once I come to it. Everyone else is hating it, but I'll take any extra time I can to get past this minor setback."
Friedrich threw his first two bullpen sessions of the spring on Monday and Wednesday and was pleased with his results.
"No pain," Friedrich said. "Everything's as it should be. I'm recovering well. I threw all my pitches. I couldn't ask for it to feel better."
Frriedrich threw 25 pitches Monday, mostly fastballs and changeups with a couple curves, and 35 Wednesday, with all his pitches in the mix. He anticipates at least one more side session before facing live hitters and possibly beginning game action in a week to 10 days. If he can stay on track, he should be able to build up his pitch count with the longer schedule following what, for him, was an interminable offseason.
"It was probably the worst one in regards to boredom and impatience," Friedrich said of his winter. "It really tested my patience. Even though it was the offseason, I still couldn't train the way I wanted to. I trained the way I wanted to for maybe three weeks when I came out here, and then I had that setback. I was finally let out of my cage, and then put back in it as soon as there was a setback."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.