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Rolen a true pro for surging Reds
This isn’t like 2006, when former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa benched third baseman Scott Rolen twice during the playoffs. Back then, Rolen was not happy.
He had given himself to the team physically during the regular season, playing 142 games with an ailing shoulder. He then proved his point to La Russa after starting the postseason 1 for 11, batting .351 with a .955 OPS over his final 10 games and helping the Cardinals win the World Series.
Now, almost six years later, Rolen’s playing time is again threatened, but the circumstances are different.
So is his reaction.
Rolen is 37 now. He recently missed five weeks with a strained left shoulder. And his replacement, rookie Todd Frazier, is producing numbers even better than the more-celebrated Bryce Harper’s.
Manager Dusty Baker started Frazier in the Reds’ first game after the All-Star break before turning back to Rolen on Saturday. Rolen went 2 for 4 in the Reds’ 3-2 victory over the Cardinals in 10 innings. Perhaps now he will get on a roll.
Still, he is realistic about his position with the club.
“I’m not sitting here with blinders, acting like a little (baby),” Rolen told me on Friday. “(Frazier) has come up and taken advantage of the situation, gotten some playing time and produced.
“Controversy or B.S., I’m not into that. Maybe it’s interesting to some people, but it’s not really interesting to me. It’s certainly not healthy to me, to the team, him or anything else.
“He’s been swinging the bat well, contributing offensively. When I’ve been out there, to this point I’ve not been a contributing factor offensively. That’s not lost on me by any means.”
Rolen, mind you, is not about to concede, even though he is batting .188 with a .562 OPS and in the final year of a two-year, $13 million contract. He spoke Friday of “catching a groove,” getting some hits to fall, changing the direction of his season. It could happen. But no one around the Reds disputes that Frazier is the future.
Frazier, 26, knows that some fans are clamoring for him to play more, but he is respectful of Rolen. In fact, Frazier said, “I love him to death,” adding, “He’s like a big brother to me.”
The talk around town?
“I try not to look into it, but I’m only human. I see it. I hear it,” Frazier said. “But he’s got seven Gold Gloves. He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, I assume.
“He deserves a (regular) spot (in the lineup). That’s the honest truth. He’s been doing it longer than me.”
Like Rolen, the Cardinals’ Lance Berkman understands that he could lose playing time to a hot-hitting teammate, even though he was batting .333 with a 1.000 OPS in 49 plate appearances before undergoing surgery on his right knee.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny started Allen Craig at first base Saturday, saying he planned to ease Berkman back into the lineup. Berkman made his first appearance in nearly two months in the seventh inning, striking out as a pinch-hitter with two on and none out.
Craig is batting .297 with a .947 OPS in 209 plate appearances; Berkman said, only half-jokingly, that he can’t do better than that. Matheny said he wants to use both players in the outfield as well as at first. Right fielder Carlos Beltran, who has played in 84 of the Cardinals’ 88 games, would benefit from additional rest.
All teams should have such problems, right?
Craig, who also is coming off knee surgery, told Matheny that he actually finds playing the outfield to be physically easier than playing first base. Berkman, meanwhile, said that his knee is fine, but that he’s worried about regaining his offensive rhythm. He did not go on a rehabilitation assignment.
Still, Berkman is not exactly in unchartered territory.
In 2005, he missed the first five weeks due to right knee soreness and wound up producing a .934 OPS for the Astros. In ’10, he missed the first three weeks after undergoing left knee surgery and had a sub-par season for the Astros and Yankees.
DUSTY: WILL HE RETURN?
Baker, 63, is in the final year of his contract with the Reds, just as he was in 2010. He secured a two-year extension that season by leading the Reds to their first NL Central title since 1995.
But now that he again is in limbo, the team is creating the impression that he might need to return to the postseason to keep his job.
How does Baker feel about all this?
“I’m not uneasy,” he said Saturday. “Sometimes, you wonder why. But you quickly dispel that and realize you’ve got a job to do.
“At this point in my career, this point in the season, I have as much say about it as the organization does. And that’s not sounding cocky or arrogant.”
What Baker means is that other jobs likely will open at the end of the season, and that if the Reds don’t want him, perhaps some other team will.
True enough, but the Reds are in a stronger position than most, built to win for the next several years, with more young talent coming. How many better jobs are there?
The team’s manager-in-waiting appears to be native son David Bell, who attended Moeller High in Cincinnati. and became the Reds’ Double-A manager just three years after he retired.
Bell, 39, is in his first season managing the Reds’ Triple-A Louisville affiliate.
THE BELTRAN NO ONE KNOWS
Beltran, quiet and low-key, is often misunderstood.
Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, in his autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball,” wrote about how Beltran would talk hitting with younger players during his time with the Mets, set them up with his tailor, buy them suits.
Dickey also wrote that when it became clear that the Mets were about to trade Beltran last season, the outfielder took the entire team out to an expensive Cincinnati steakhouse and spent $8,000 buying everyone dinner.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak describes Beltran as a “caring person,” the kind of guy who would always be there for a friend without wanting anyone to know about it.
REDS’ VOTTO: ADJUSTING TO THE MONEY
Most players claim they are not bothered by the expectations created by new contracts, but Reds first baseman Joey Votto does not deny that it took him some time to adjust to the 10-year, $225 million extension that he signed with the team on April 3.
“Probably the first 2-4 weeks I struggled with the number, the magnitude, the number of years,” Votto said. “Probably the most difficult part was letting go of control.
“(The extension) doesn’t kick in until 2014, two years from now. So, I was saying to myself, ‘I could play great the next two years and it doesn’t even matter. Everything is so here and now.’
“I understand that. But I think accepting that and switching my focus and energy to something productive has probably been the best approach. I’ve been playing well. It makes things a lot easier.”
Votto, who turns 29 on Sept. 10, made those remarks in a meeting with the Fox broadcasters at the All-Star Game. He continues to deal with left knee inflammation; he is 0 for 8 to start the second half.
AROUND THE HORN
• Reds right-hander Mike Leake made a dramatic turnaround in his season — he had a 7.11 ERA on May 11, but has produced a 2.59 ERA in 11 starts since.
He had an interesting explanation for his reversal.
Leake said that he had to adjust his mindset and kick himself “into gear” after spending the winter at home in Phoenix with his fiancée and family.
“The beginning of the season was tough for me,” he said. “The first month, I missed being at home, missed being with my family. Once I got past that, it was a little easier to get locked in.”
• Matt Holliday’s recent surge has coincided with a mechanical adjustment that he made in mid-June.
The Cardinals’ hitting coaches, Mark McGwire and John Mabry, noticed on video that Holliday was sort of hunched over, leaning too far forward. They asked him to stand more erect — Holliday called it a “posture adjustment” — and from there Holliday took off.
He is batting .438 with a 1.192 OPS in his last 105 plate appearances.
• The Reds’ Ryan Ludwick, who hit a walk-off homer on Saturday, isn’t quite as hot as Holliday. Still, Ludwick is proving to be a bargain for $2.5 million.
On May 16, Ludwick was batting .177 with a .599 OPS. Since then, over a span of almost two months, he’s hitting .276 with a .923 OPS.
• The Cardinals’ signing of left-hander Brian Fuentes could be the team’s first step toward fixing its bullpen.
Fuentes, who was released by the Athletics, will report to the Cardinals’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in an effort to regain his sharpness. The plan is for him to be in the minors no more than two weeks.
As for further help, the Cardinals are cooling on the idea of trading for a starter and moving Lance Lynn or Joe Kelly to the bullpen; they feel it will be easier to acquire a right-handed reliever than a starter.
The team’s offensive production at the position is about league-average, but its defense remains a concern. Still, Mozeliak is unlikely to pursue an upgrade.
Double-A second baseman Kolten Wong, the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft, could be ready as soon as next season.
• Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal has played in 85 of the Cardinals’ 88 games after appearing in just 87 last season and 97 in 2010.
Mozeliak raves about Furcal’s work ethic and pregame preparation, but Furcal said that he has been using the same routine since 2007 without always avoiding injury.
The difference now?
Luck, of course, but Furcal also said that playing in a Midwestern city is helpful. The travel is shorter; he doesn’t stiffen up on long flights the way he did when he was playing in Los Angeles with the Dodgers.