During a routine fielding drill on a practice diamond behind Knology Park this past Sunday, Rolen was struck on the tip of his right middle finger with a hard line drive. Toronto's third baseman suffered a non-displaced fracture in the finger and was flown to Baltimore, where he underwent surgery to repair the mangled digit.
Hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham inserted a pin in the tip of Rolen's finger and the third baseman is scheduled to have it removed on April 7. At that point, it's uncertain how much time it will take Rolen, a major offseason acquisition for the Jays, to return to the lineup, but Rolen said Graham believed the third baseman could be out until late April or early May.
"He gave a four-to-six week window from the time of surgery," said Rolen, who was sporting a soft cast on his right hand. "We'll all hopefully be optimistic and cut that down as much as we can in the right way -- the smart way."
The hand cast Rolen was initially given is a bulky brace that currently covers his wrist and the middle and ring fingers on his right hand. Rolen and Toronto's medical staff have been in contact with Graham about possibly having a smaller cast replace the current one as soon as Monday, so the third baseman can begin some light baseball activities.
Rolen, who was obtained in a January trade that sent third baseman Troy Glaus to St. Louis, said that Graham is more concerned about Rolen's ability to throw than hit once the pin is removed from his hand. Rolen said he could possibly begin light hitting drills a few days after having the pin taken out and he'd likely wait to pick up a baseball until around April 14.
"It'd be pretty speculative to say what's going to happen after [the pin is removed]," Rolen said. "[Graham] is even a little cautious of what's going to happen. He'd rather see me hit before I throw. He wants to make sure it healed correctly -- the flesh -- and make sure I have feeling in the tip of my finger and things like that."
For now, Rolen will remain in Florida and is expected to be placed on the 15-day disabled list to begin the season. Until he's able to return, utility man Marco Scutaro will serve as Toronto's temporary third baseman. Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi indicated earlier this week that the club had no intention of looking for another bat outside the organization.
The injury occurred when Blue Jays bench coach Brian Butterfield was hitting ground balls to Rolen this past Sunday. The ill-fated play in question was a low line drive that Rolen believed was going to bounce just in front of his glove. The third baseman anticipated a short hop, but the baseball stayed in the air and drilled Rolen's hand.
At first, Rolen didn't believe the injury was anything serious. The incident wasn't too different from other fielding accidents throughout his 12 seasons in the Majors. Rolen's finger was bleeding, but the way his fingernail appeared to be bent, he figured the baseball had simply ripped off his nail.
As it turned out, the nail wasn't the problem. The tip of Rolen's finger was broken to the extent that bone had been exposed. Rolen headed from Knology Park to a local emergency room, where a doctor used stitches to help stabilize the third baseman's finger temporarily before the operation in Baltimore.
When it was all said and done, Rolen still had his fingernail, but he needed the pin to help hold the broken finger in place.
"I said, 'Oh, my God, I'm going to lose my nail," Rolen recalled. "We were looking at the wrong thing. We thought the nail was bent up 45 degrees and, actually, the bottom of my finger was bent down 45 degrees. That's the wrong 45 degrees."
"It's kind of gross," he added with a smirk. "It grosses a lot of people out. There's pictures of it from the doctor that have been spread around the clubhouse. It's kind of a 'Faces of Death' type thing.
"It surprised me, the severity of actually what happened."
It's a frustating situation for Rolen, who turns 33 on April 4, but he's at least happy that his current health issue is in no way related to his left shoulder. Rolen has battled left shoulder issues since 2005 and he underwent season-ending surgery on his arm last September.
Rolen -- owed $11 million in each of the 2008-11 seasons -- has experienced no lingering issues with his left shoulder this spring, in which he hit .345 with one home run in 14 games for the Blue Jays. What's upsetting for the third baseman was that he was feeling comfortable at the plate, in the field and healthy when the freak accident took place.
"There's things you cant control," he said with a shrug. "Injuries a lot of times you can't control. ... I was taking ground balls -- I was doing my work. So in that sense, things like that happen. I guess the 'Why me? factor comes in a little bit and the 'Poor me' factor."
"It would be a bigger deal if it were my shoulder," he added later. "I'd have a lot of questions that weren't answered if it were my shoulder. 'Why is this happening again?' My shoulder feels good. My shoulder feels great. My whole body feels great and I was ready to go. That's a big positive. Now this happened -- totally different thing -- but it's fixable."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less