Notes: Extra work worth it to Helms

Notes: Patience, work worth it to Helms

MIAMI -- Wes Helms hadn't started regularly for a Major League team since 2003, and he believes he was increasingly being seen by other teams as strictly a utility player. But all that changed after last season with the Marlins.

Helms is sitting in the opposite clubhouse now as the Phillies' primary third baseman. He broke the part-time stereotype by hitting .329 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs over 240 at-bats, prompting Philadelphia to give him a two-year contract with an option for a third year.

"It just lets you know that nothing is ever set in stone," Helms said before Sunday's series finale against the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium. "You get labeled ... certain things, but you can change that.

"I was comfortable doing what I was doing, especially last year, but you have in the back of your mind that, 'Hey, I can do better and I can help a team by playing every day.' You just keep working for that."

The Phillies saw that Helms took being a utility player to a very high level last season, with all his extra work and preparedness. For instance, he would begin loosening up and shadow-swinging in the clubhouse in the sixth inning on nights he could project he'd be used as a pinch-hitter in the eighth or ninth inning.

"I had to over-prepare and really work on it," he said. "I had to go on the field and work, and work pretty much to the point where it tired me out. But I think that's the way, as a baseball player, I have to do it."

Helms was raised in North Carolina and attended North Carolina State before signing with the Braves in 1994.

"I have talent, but I'm not blessed with it like some guys," he said. "I had to make do with what I had. I knew to get the most out of my talent, I had to give it all I've got -- that's with preparation and everything."

Helms picked up those kind of work habits by listening often to Julio Franco, his former Braves teammate, who's still playing at 48.

"I can see that guy playing until he's 55 years old," Helms said. "For him to do what he's done, he's shown the value of taking care of your body and taking care of your game."

Helms, now 30, doesn't really expect to be playing into his 40s, but he's not ruling it out, either.

"I'm a big believer that hard work doesn't go unnoticed," he said. "You just keep working hard and keeping your business straight, and it's going to work out."

With the Marlins last year, Helms became a mentor to one of the club's young players, outfielder Reggie Abercrombie, who had distinguished speed and power but was striking out too much. With Helms there to buoy his confidence, Abercrombie played through last season. With Helms gone this spring, Abercrombie struggled and was demoted.

"He has so much potential, but I guess he didn't hit," Helms said.

As a Phillies regular, Helms is there to reach out to any teammate who wants to talk, but he is concentrating right now on vindicating the Phillies for giving him a chance to play often.

In four games, he is 3-for-16 with two RBIs.

"I'm one of those who does pretty much what I have to do at that certain point in time," he said. "I take each day as it comes. If I'm not starting, I'll get ready to come in and pinch-hit. If I do start, I'm going to be ready to start the game and do something big through three or four at-bats."

Helms worked two walks off Marlins starter Scott Olsen through his first two plate appearances Sunday.

Lopes wants more stealing: Davey Lopes, the Phillies' baserunning and first-base coach, understands base stealing has made a mild comeback in the Major Leagues, but he would like to see more of it. And some of that opinion comes from the hopes of giving baseball a chance to lure better athletes.

After watching an ESPN "Outside the Lines" segment on the precipitous decline of the number of African-Americans in baseball, Lopes is convinced that more emphasis on base stealing could help increase the game's popularity.

"Let's be honest," Lopes said. "Unless you've grown up in it, with your dad or something and you have an attraction to it, an outsider's view is that the game goes too slow. Base stealing can add some excitement to the game, especially if you've got a guy who goes out there and challenges pitchers and catchers."

Lopes listened to interviews of African-American youngsters and heard them list baseball down the line in popularity to basketball and football, and some even pegged the game below video games.

"Basketball is so popular, it's like you're fighting the heavyweight champion of the world with these kids," Lopes said. "I think we should have started going after these kids 20 years ago. We've hit the market a little late on it and we've lost a lot of great athletes."

Lopes, who stole 557 bases in his career, is convinced that some teams today don't put enough emphasis on the benefits of base stealing.

"A lot of guys say we don't run because everybody slide-steps," he said of the measure pitchers use to quicken their delivery. "But that's not true. A lot of times a pitcher will show a slide-step early in the count. Sometimes you have to wait for the opportunity when he doesn't slide-step.

"I equate that to how you'd react when you're hitting," he added. "When a guy gets two strikes on you, you don't give up hitting. So why would you give up on stealing a base just because the guy doesn't give you a pitch to steal on right away? I think you should take the same amount of concern you use in hitting and transfer that over to base-running."

The Phillies have three stolen bases through five games entering Sunday, with Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Aaron Rowand getting one each. Lopes sees outfielder Michael Bourn and Chase Utley as other running threats.

"It's exciting to watch a player who disrupts the defense -- the pitcher, the catcher, the manager," Lopes said. "It's almost like he's in charge of the game at that point."

Odds and ends: Manager Charlie Manuel said he expects pitcher Jon Lieber to join the team "sometime during the early part of the week." Lieber has been rehabbing in Clearwater, Fla. Manuel also is eager to see pitcher Freddy Garcia's return from injury. That likely will be next Sunday, if he comes out OK from a rehab stint at Class A Clearwater on Tuesday. "The guys we've had hurt, we need to get 'em back," Manuel said. ... The club optioned catcher Chris Coste to Triple-A Ottawa. The Phillies are happy with their tandem of Carlos Ruiz and Rod Barajas.

Up next: In the much-anticipated opener of a three-game series, the Phillies face the Mets at 1:10 p.m. ET at Shea Stadium on Monday with left-hander Cole Hamels making his second start of the season. He pitched seven shutout innings against Atlanta on Wednesday, yielding four hits and a walk, though he had a no-decision. He'll face right-hander John Maine, who opened with a shutout victory over St. Louis on Wednesday.

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.