Shouldering the risk on Rolen

Brian Walton consults an expert on baseball-related injuries to assess the Scott Rolen situation.

Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch wrote a column on Saturday that echoed the thoughts of many in the Cardinal Nation. Bernie wondered aloud if it wouldn't have been more prudent for third baseman Scott Rolen to rest and heal up, rather than rush back into action following the All-Star break.

Miklasz P-D column

Sure, we understand the driven nature of the Cardinal manager and his players, including Rolen, and admire their desire to play come hell or high water. We respect that attitude highly. But, it is still fair to wonder if more rest now might pay greater dividends later.

To be honest, I had similar thoughts as Bernie. But, he had covered the bases so well in his story, I just nodded my head and was preparing to move on to other issues. Then, it hit me.

Bernie's arguments, while totally logical, missed one key angle. That is, what is the risk of further damage occurring if Rolen continues to play?

After all, few would dispute that Rolen at 75% or 80% would be preferable to John Mabry or Abraham Nunez at 100%. However, if Rolen were to deteriorate to 60%, then to 50% and so on, that answer would surely change.

There is no doubt that Rolen is currently struggling at the plate, having hit just .218 (17-for-78) since returning from the disabled list on June 18. He is still looking for his first post-injury home run. Rolen's RBI double Sunday was his first hit since July 8 and only extra-base hit since July 5.

Still, his defense has not shown one bit of erosion. As Tony La Russa said, Rolen has and will continue to save games just with his glove. Hard to argue with that.

To try to understand more about Rolen's injury situation, we could have asked the Cardinals' medical staff. However, because Rolen is out there playing every day, we already know what the response would be.

For reference, the official news is generally good. Team physician Dr. George Paletta said Monday that the MRI on Rolen's shoulder showed some tendinitis but that otherwise the location of the surgery "looks great and nothing else looks structurally to be a problem... At this point there's no point in putting him on the DL... The news today was about as good as it could have been."

Still, Rolen's activity will be limited for the next three to six weeks. And Rolen himself understandably remains concerned. He told the P-D, "You hear about a clean MRI, so that's good in one sense. But something's wrong. It doesn't give me much closure on it."

To get a second opinion, I contacted baseball injury expert Rick Wilton. Through USA Today's Baseball Hot Sheet, Hot Sheet link, Wilton dispenses immediate analysis on the hottest injury issues through 90 newsletters each year and daily web updates. He comes from a medical background and has been working at his trade for a dozen years.

Rick, given the injury, surgery and the time he was out, as well as your knowledge of other similar situations, where should we expect Rolen to be at this point?

The damage to Rolen's non-throwing shoulder was repaired surgically. So the pain/discomfort/weakness he's feeling is likely 'normal', especially since he pushed his recovery time.

Can you be more specific about what might be the nature of the pain?

Rolen has probably torn some adhesions (scar tissue) that he feels just in the normal day-to-day baseball drills.

Is Rolen is going to end up hurting himself more just by being out there every day playing?

I doubt he's at risk just by playing. But if he had another collision or over-extended himself on a dive toward short to catch a ball, he could cause new damage.

Current course and speed, what should we expect to see from Rolen in the second half?

The rest of the season, we can expect Rolen to have some shoulder weakness and discomfort. But, unless any of the above happens, he should get through the season without going back on the DL.

Overall, taking it all into account, how much of a risk do you think is being taken?

Just because he's playing he's at risk, but I doubt it's a big risk based on the available information.

So, in conclusion, the most important question remains whether or not Rolen is going to injure himself further just by playing every day. Rick Wilton thinks not – as long as Rolen is not expected to play middle linebacker, that is.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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