Rolen focused on staying on the field in 2012

Rolen focused on staying on the field in 2012

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When Spring Training opened last year, Reds manager Dusty Baker hoped that third baseman Scott Rolen would be good to go for 120 games in 2011.

Rolen did not come close because shoulder injuries got in the way.

"He went to 120 last year but missed it by half," Rolen joked. "It's probably pretty smart not to put a number on it."

In fact, Baker wasn't willing to this time.

"I hate to put a number on it," Baker said. "His body is going to dictate that. Quite frankly, I'm hoping for more."

Rolen is coming off one of the more disappointing years of his distinguished career. He batted .242 with five home runs and 36 RBIs in only 65 games. From April 24-May 12, he was on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder. The same shoulder put him out from July 22 through the end of the season. He had surgery on Aug. 3 to remove bone spurs.

There was an attempt to return to the lineup in September, but some practice swings aggravated the injury and forced Rolen to shut it down. That bothered him as much as the injury itself.

"Certainly at the end of the season, I wasn't tired. I was unfulfilled," Rolen said. "I try not to be a huge numbers guy, but I do like to see games played and my body ache like hell at the end of a season. I could actually walk when the season was over. I'm not used to that. This year, I want to play. I'm not going to look at numbers. I'm not going to look at anything along those lines, stats. I want to stay healthy and play the season. At the end of the year, I want to be tired as hell."

Rolen, who turns 37 on April 4, is in the final season of his contract and will make $6.5 million in 2012. Whether he plans to play beyond '12 he declined to say. But if this is the last go-round, he appeared hopeful that his playing days would end on a positive note.

"I'm not spending much time on that," Rolen said. "If this is my last year, I want to make sure I get out there and I play and contribute, and I want to be accountable for this year. I had a hard time with that last year. That was one of the biggest disappointments I had last year. I felt unaccountable. As an everyday player, one of the most important jobs is the responsibility to your position, to your team and [being] accountable for what happens on the field and yourself being on the field. ... I'm looking in the present right now, just getting on the field and being accountable."

Shoulder soreness lingered for Rolen well into the offseason, but he was able to begin rehabilitating by December near his home on the Gulf Coast of Florida. He completely reworked his training regimen by ditching weightlifting as he focused on strength training. He will do likewise while in camp with hopes it will help preserve his body for the season.

"I'm 37. Do I really need to be pounding weights in the weight room after 20 Spring Trainings or whatever it is?" Rolen said. "I feel good. I have more range of motion than I've had for the last four or five years probably."

During the Reds' 79-win down year last season, Rolen's presence was greatly missed. In the past three seasons since he joined the club, Cincinnati has a 127-96 record in games he has started. His best season with the club was the National League Central-winning 2010, when Rolen batted .285 with 20 homers and 83 RBIs.

A seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove Award winner over his 16 big league seasons, Rolen has earned the right to train his way to get ready. Baker received reports on Rolen's progress during the offseason but did not check in personally.

As of now, the manager expects Rolen to be able to fully participate in all drills and will decide later how many exhibition games he will need to be ready for the regular season.

"Scotty and I always have dialogue and an honor system thing going, "Baker said. "He's about as truthful and honest as anyone you will ever meet. He knows himself now at this point. He knows how he feels, how he reacts to things, and I ask him. I can see by now a funny swing, a funny twinge. I'm pretty attuned to body language and various things. It's part of my job."

It's also part of Baker's job to prepare for contingencies, including for days that Rolen will be unavailable. Several backups will be auditioning for a role, including prospects Juan Francisco and Todd Frazier and veterans Willie Harris, Wilson Valdez and Paul Janish. Utility infielder Miguel Cairo, who was a pivotal player at third base in 2011 when both Rolen and Francisco were injured, is also back.

"It's important to the team who plays in Scotty's absence from time to time," Baker said. "You know there are going to be some gaps. You just don't want extended gaps."

And most certainly, Rolen doesn't want them either.

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.