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Rolen comes back big from stiff back problems

After a bus ride from Milwaukee to Chicago stiffens his back, Rolen misses five games but has great return.

CINCINNATI — Scott Rolen was standing at his locker, fumbling with something on a shelf and when he turned around he was confronted by a gaggle of media.

 

It seemed apropos that Rolen, fighting back problems this year, would have his back to the media.

 

"Let me guess," he said. "This is another interview to ask me about the absence of Joey Votto. Obviously, we don't need him."

 

And then he chuckled, knowing explicitly that the Cincinnati Reds do need Joey Votto, despite a 21-8 record during his lapse onto the disabled list.

 

That's not what the media wanted, of course. They wanted to talk about Rolen's five-game absence with a locked-up back and his return to the lineup Wednesday against the New York Mets.

 

And what a return it was. Rolen had a double and a home run off 15-game winner and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and the Reds won their sixth straight game, 6-1.

 

Manager Dusty Baker thinks the same about Rolen as he thinks about Votto. He is wanted, needed and when healthy he is put to use.

 

The Reds traveled from Milwaukee to Chicago on a bus and Rolen said, "We haven't pin-pointed the bus ride yet as the culprit," but he admitted the next morning in Chicago that getting out of bed would have been easier with a crane.

 

"I did not get out of bed very well the next morning," he said. "It took me 15 minutes to get out of bed and that's not conducive to good baseball. You crawl into the bathroom thinking you aren't going to make it because it early morning, time to get up, and I couldn't walk."

 

The thing about Rolen is that he endured a miserable early-season during which his batting average read more like a body temperature or a fifth-grader's math test score.

 

Then, after the All-Star break he became The Real Scott Rolen. He hit .367 with two homers and nine RBI over a 15-game stretch.

 

Then he sat in a bus seat and paid a stiff price — a stiff back that cost him five games.

 

"I called the trainer, Paul Lessard, after I crawled out of the bathroom and he helped me so I could at least move because my back was locked up" Rolen added. "That sets you back a few days. But with rest and a lot of work — the off day (Monday) helped — and I came to the park Tuesday feeling pretty good."

 

About his surge after the All-Star break, Rolen said, "I found a little groove there. I was seeing the ball well and had a better approach than I had earlier. I've been competing better, up until my back locked, so I'm hoping to go in there and compete some more."

 

Rolen missed five weeks in May and June with a sore shoulder and this is the second time his back rebelled. He was asked if it might be better for him to more closely monitor his playing time, take more time off.

 

Rolen was adamant that it won't be necessary.

 

"I was playing as well as I've played all year," he said. "And I was coming off a day off — I didn't play that last game in Milwaukee. I was getting rest and feeling good. It was one of those things — whether it was the bus ride or whatever. I had a freak thing in San Francisco (late-June) where I took a funny swing in the batting cage and my back locked up there.

 

"But I'm not going to go down the stretch this season worrying about my back locking up," he said.

 

On Wednesday, it appeared to be as loose as a pocket full of dimes.