Rolen embraces calm spring with Cardinals

Saturday, March 22, 2003

JUPITER, Fla. -- After all the turmoil of the last two seasons, Scott Rolen appreciates the calm more than ever.

All of the focus is on baseball this spring for the Cardinals' third baseman. Not on the day's clubhouse sniping or the incessant trade rumors.

"A happy player is a good player in my book," Rolen said. "If a guy is happy and comfortable and enjoys what he's doing, he's ahead of the game."

Last spring, as his tumultuous time with the Phillies was coming to a close, he was anything but happy. He was just hoping for a way out after questioning the team's commitment to winning.

"I was just wondering when I went to the clubhouse who had taken a shot at me, and what else was happening," Rolen said. "Subconsciously I'm sure it weighed on me a little bit."

He relaxed immediately after the Cardinals acquired him July 29 in a deal that sent infielder Placido Polanco and pitchers Bud Smith and Mike Timlin to the Phillies. He really felt wanted after the Cardinals signed him to an eight-year, $90 million contract in September.

Rolen's lone quibble this spring is the weather: it's been unseasonably warm. Otherwise, no complaints at all.

"It's been great, it really has," Rolen said. "It's been all about the game, so I feel good about it."

Physically, Rolen feels good too. He missed the Cardinals' five-game loss to the Giants in the National League championship series with a separated shoulder sustained in the Division Series, but has been healthy since January.

He said the shoulder hasn't been a concern since early in spring training.

"The first few days you don't know what to expect when you're going to be taking 150 to 200 swings a day," Rolen said. "You can't replicate that in the offseason.

"But after about four days those fears went away. I had no concerns."

The Cardinals have no worries about Rolen, no matter what happens this spring. Overall he batted .266 last year with 31 homers and 110 RBIs, and manager Tony La Russa often said last season that he's the best defensive third baseman he's ever seen.

This spring he was batting .245 with two homers and eight RBIs in 50 at-bats.

"He told me he doesn't usually have a sensational spring," La Russa said. "I like what I see."

La Russa was quick to point out that Rolen also held up his end during his distracting days with the Phillies. Last year was his third 100-RBI year in the last five seasons.

"Controversy was good for him, because he was a heck of a player in Philadelphia," La Russa said. "When you're a good player, you're a good player."

He also runs exceedingly well for a 6-4, 240-pound player, with a pair of 16-steal seasons in his past.

Rolen likely will bat fifth in the Cardinals' power-packed lineup, giving pitchers no relief after facing Jim Edmonds and MVP runner-up Albert Pujols. He hit his second homer of the spring on Thursday, not that power numbers in Florida have ever been a big deal.

"I'm not overly result-oriented in spring training at all," Rolen said. "I just want to see a lot of pitches and I want to try to get deeper in the counts. But the outcome of the at-bats, I'm not really concerned about."

Notes: The closer it gets to the opener, the more distressed La Russa is becoming. He ripped into reliever Joey Hamilton, who allowed a three-run homer on Thursday against the Orioles. "That was very bad runs to give up. He's much better than that." ... La Russa also bristled when reminded of his general guideline of giving Mike Matheny two-thirds of the catching starts and Joe Girardi one-third. "Stay tuned for the playing time," La Russa said. "I'm not going to give you any formula because that's not reasonable." ... On Thursday, though, the manager singled out pitcher Garrett Stephenson for praise in a 14-12 loss to the Mets. "He got the gold star," La Russa said of Stephenson, one of three pitchers battling for two rotation spots. Stephenson pitched on the same day Jason Simontacchi threw an intersquad game, probably because he's made the rotation and Stephenson hasn't yet. ... Tino Martinez, who didn't have a homer until May last year, hit his first in two springs with the Cardinals on Thursday against the Mets.

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