Rolen a true pro for surging Reds

BY foxsports • July 15, 2012

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.”
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.
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.
• 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.”
• 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.

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