Rolen dismisses concerns about his durability

Rolen dismisses concerns about his durability

MESA, Ariz. -- Scott Rolen has definitely heard the talk from various circles.

If the Reds third baseman cared at all about what was said or written about his durability, he'd probably summon the clubhouse staff to bring man-sized amounts of bubble wrap to protect him from the armada of injuries poised to consume him. But that's not how he rolls.

Rolen's 2010 season, especially the second half, was beset with hamstring, back and neck injuries that definitely affected his production. The left shoulder that was surgically repaired a few years ago will always be problematic. He's also going to turn 36 on April 4.

As far as Rolen is concerned, so what?

"You have 162 games ahead of you. We're going to be injured," Rolen said on Friday. "We're going to be beat up, banged up, bruised up, and that's a fact. It's something that we know. So is everyone else in the league. That's true. Hopefully we stay away from the big injury."

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Last season, Rolen batted .285 with 20 home runs, 83 RBIs and .358 on-base percentage. His first half earned him a return to the All-Star Game as he hit 17 of his homers with 57 RBIs. That meant there were only three homers and 26 RBIs after the break.

In the National League Division Series vs. the Phillies, Rolen was 1-for-11 with eight strikeouts. Also a Gold Glove winner last season, he made two uncharacteristic errors in the field.

Trouble started when Rolen missed nine of the first 10 games of the second half with a sore right hamstring. It was the first time he says a leg injury ever put him on the bench over his 15 big league seasons.

The back and neck issues began just as the Reds were making the stretch run to the NL Central title. Because of the time of year, Rolen resisted any notion of being put on the disabled list. He refused to use being banged up as an excuse for his drop off.

"I don't look at it that way. The idea is to be accountable and to be on the field," Rolen said. "And if you're on the field, you're accountable. I'm accountable for my performance, good or bad. Down the stretch, it was my job to get myself ready and on the field and play. That's what I did. Obviously, the results weren't what I wanted. But I was accountable, on the field and playing. That's important to me. That's what I think our job is and all of our jobs are."

The Reds were swept in three games by the Phillies. Rolen, who is considered a quiet -- but large -- clubhouse presence and leader, did not let the conclusion overwhelm the big picture for himself and the team.

"We had a great year. We really did. We had a good team," Rolen said. "We ran into a pretty unfortunate draw there. It's not a discredit to us the way that postseason turned out. It's much more of a credit to them. I certainly went over a few of my at-bats down the stretch and some you change here or there. I didn't look at the postseason as a negative or discredit to us."

Rolen has two years and $13 million remaining on the extension he signed with the Reds before the 2009 season. With a young and close-knit family at home, it could very well be the final two years of his career -- if he so chooses.

Obviously a return to the playoffs would be nice, especially if it could yield his second World Series ring to pair with the one earned with the 2006 Cardinals. Rolen doesn't like to deal with concerns about the future -- just what's right in front of him.

"We're a long way -- standing right here and right now -- from getting to the playoffs again," he said. "We have injuries. We have wins. We have losses. We have brush fires and maybe melees. There's a long road before we get to that situation. We need to handle what's in front of us. It's not a realistic conversation in my mind until you do the work. You don't get awarded anything in this game. You do the work and you take what you get from that."

This spring and last, Reds manager Dusty Baker made it known he hoped to get 120 games out of Rolen. In 2010, Rolen played 133 games, with 125 of those starts.

"I bet it's about that," Baker said near the start of camp. "I like more, but I'm spacing him for that. I give him days [off] after nights, especially when we play those 14 games in a row streaks. He's a guy I kind of have to program for playing to the off-days. He's not going to say, I have to go on what I see. If I see his swing or stiffness, I have a pretty good eye for differences."

Like he has with a few veterans, Baker has spaced Rolen's time in exhibition games in an effort to keep him fresher heading into the season. He's played back-to-back games only once all spring.

Because of a split-squad game, Rolen will play on both Friday and Saturday. During Friday's 14-13 win over the Cubs, he played seven innings and was 1-for-4 with his a three-run home run, his first of the spring, to keep his average at .250 (7-for-28). Five innings of action are scheduled for Saturday vs. the Rockies, and another day off is planned for Sunday.

It should be noted that Rolen has not had to skip or be dialed back from any workouts all spring. He's been healthy and doing his full program on the field and off. Don't be surprised, however, to see Baker and the club hedging their bets with roster construction.

"It's almost a necessity to carry a backup third baseman like it is for a backup shortstop," Baker said on Friday. "Whoever that backup third baseman is, I hope they have day vision vs. night vision."

That could mean a chance for top third-base prospect Juan Francisco to make the club. But other challengers include Chris Valaika and Todd Frazier. Utility man Miguel Cairo successfully spelled Rolen most often last season.

Rolen would prefer to downplay the projections of his health and leave the kid-glove treatment to someone else. He plans on playing, one game at a time.

"Stay hurt, never get injured. That's the idea," Rolen said.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.