PEORIA, Ariz. -- If nothing else, Todd Helton's Cactus League debut on Sunday showed the veteran first baseman that even in his 18th spring with the Rockies, the game of baseball can still surprise him.

"I thought going into the game I was going to feel really good, but in the game, it sped up a little more than I thought," Helton said. "It's just a matter now of slowing it back down and taking that BP swing into a game."

The moment was seven months in the making, a moment Helton wasn't sure would come when he underwent season-ending right hip surgery early last August.

"[I started hitting] real early, probably late November," Helton said. "I usually don't start until January, but I wanted to see if I could still swing it a little bit. I think it was probably the third or fourth time that I hit, I was really excited about getting my swing back and felt it was there. It's a work in progress, but we'll see."

In two at-bats, Helton popped to third and grounded to short, but the five-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner knows that despite his timing being off, he's on track to be ready for the opener in Milwaukee.

"You want to be peaking when you're breaking camp, not two weeks before camp," Helton said. "I'm trying to train to get ready for the season, not for Spring Training."

With the World Baseball Classic prompting a longer spring schedule, manager Walt Weiss arranged for Helton to delay his debut until the second weekend of Cactus League play.

"The plan is for Todd to play a lot [in the regular season]," Weiss said. "He doesn't need a ton of [spring] at-bats. He's got a pretty good feel for what he needs when it comes to Spring Training."

His eight-day delay may have been the best practice Helton could get as he faces the reality of putting old habits aside, and for a player with nine seasons playing 150 or more games under his belt, learning to be comfortable sitting could be his biggest challenge.

"I feel lazy when I don't go out there," Helton said. "But when you take a day off, it's just amazing how well your body feels the next day."

It's a coming-to-terms that many athletes of Helton's stature aren't ever able to accept. Helton brings a career .320 average into the season and is only a season removed from hitting .302 in 124 games, but his lingering hip issue contributed to a career low .238 in just 69 games in 2012. He indicated he has every intention of hitting .300 again as he prepares for a season knowing "the end is near," and he is more realistic than ever about the pacing.

"My bat speed's still there," Helton said. "It's not there every day. If I'm sore, I don't have youth on my side to be able to get loose. But on certain days, yeah. In BP today I was hitting the ball farther and farther. I hit a ball out to center [for a batting practice home run]."

Arenado homers in third straight game

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Nolan Arenado is getting mighty comfortable in the Rockies' lineup. He started his third straight game on Monday and homered for the third consecutive day, bringing his Cactus League tally to four, tied for best with Cleveland's Ryan Raburn.

"They're giving me my opportunities for at-bats, but they're trying to get me ready for the season, no matter where it's at," Arenado said before the game. "I'm thankful for that. I feel good. Spring Training, you want to get as many at-bats as you can to get ready for the season. Maybe there is an opportunity, but I've always believed there's an opportunity no matter what. I just got to take it in and enjoy what's going on."

A week ago, the 21-year-old Arenado, the Rockies' No. 2 prospect and No. 62 overall prospect, seemed destined to make his Triple-A debut, the fifth stop on a five-year progression through the Minors. After Monday's 2-for-3 effort, Arenado is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with a gaudy 1.235 slugging percentage.

"I don't want to go to Triple-A, that's not my goal," Arenado said. "My goal is to come in here and make the big league team. That's going to be my goal, always. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, but I still want to be up here. I don't want to go down."

Standing in his way is Chris Nelson, whose .301 average in 111 games for the Rockies last year made him the prohibitive favorite to open the season at third. The Rockies want Arenado where he can play every day, so it's either win the job with the Rockies or wait for his day at Triple-A.

"You don't put a limit on a kid and say regardless of what happens he can't make the club," manager Walt Weiss said of Arenado's prospects. "That's not the case."

While there may be uncertainty in the Rockies' front office about whether Arenado's maturity has caught up with his bat, he is definitely more grounded than he was a year ago.

"I'm trying to hit the ball hard, that's my mindset right now," Arenado said. "Last year, I was like, 'I need to do this, I need to do that.' Right now, I'm just trying to hit the ball hard. That's all I can ask for."

And his glove? Arenado started a 5-4-3 triple play for the Rockies in Thursday's win against the Reds.

"I just love playing with those guys," Arenado said after starting in a lineup with seven likely Opening Day starters. "And I want to play with them for a long time."

De La Rosa trying to find his rhythm

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jorge De La Rosa faced 11 batters in 1 2/3 innings on Sunday, allowing two hits while walking three and hitting a batter to force in a run in a 7-2 loss to the A's. Monday morning, he faced the music.

"I'm very out of sync," De La Rosa said. "It's not a matter of strength. It's more location that's the issue. With two strikes, I don't want to make any mistakes, so the ball starts to get a little carried away."

De La Rosa went on the disabled list in May 2011 and had Tommy John surgery that June. He began working the first of three different rehab assignments last May, making seven Minor League starts. All told, he pitched on five levels, including three stats for the Rockies at the end of September, accumulating a 7.55 ERA in 10 starts, spanning 31 innings.

After two Cactus League appearances, De La Rosa has a 7.36 ERA, and according to the left-hander, control issues have been consistent both in his side sessions and in games.

"The last two bullpens I threw was the same thing, [the ball was] running a little bit," De La Rosa said. "My command was not there yet. I feel like I'm going too fast."

De Le Rosa has won 39 games for the Rockies in five seasons, but he has missed time due to injuries in four of those campaigns. He is not frustrated yet this spring, knowing it will take him some time to get his feel back after missing a season and a half.

"The most important thing is the arm is good. The other things, I can fix," De La Rosa said. "I just need to get my rhythm and my mechanics back. Right now, I don't have them at all. I hope I can find them soon."