"Doubtful" Rolen May be a Blessing

One writer believes that an enforced vacation for Scott Rolen, however it was caused, is a good thing.

St. Louis Cardinals head trainer Barry Weinberg told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday that third baseman Scott Rolen is "doubtful" for the remainder of the weekend series against the Washington Nationals.

Rolen has been out since Monday with a respiratory ailment the team is calling bronchitis. Even when he is ready to re-join the team, there is speculation that Rolen may not return to full-time duty immediately as he regains his strength.

Some are concerned about this turn of events, but I am not one of them. In fact, I am as pleased as one can be about a situation that appears on the surface to be driven by misfortune.

Despite being one of only three Cardinals starters hitting the ball consistently this season to date (.313 with three home runs and 13 RBI in 64 at-bats), Rolen missing a week or more may just be a blessing for both him and the Cardinals.

Public comments from the team this month have been filled with unrestrained delight that Rolen came back from his injury-wrecked 2005 season faster than expected and his early contributions were beyond expectation. But, some of us wondered if it was a bit too much, too soon for the slugger, a player most believe is crucial to the team's success, especially in the post-season.

Rolen scored grittiness points in 2005 when he tried to play through pain after coming back quickly from his first surgery, but finally had to pull the plug on his season as he underwent a second procedure on his aching left shoulder.

Perhaps there are no valid parallels between his 2005 and 2006 to-date, yet it is still the same player, the same shoulder and the same manager writing his name on the line-up card day after day.

Prior to coming down sick, last week Rolen admitted that he has felt fatigue in that twice-surgically repaired shoulder. Yet, likely due to a combination of Rolen's stubborn desire to be in the line-up every day and manager Tony La Russa's relentless push to win every game, every series, Rolen had started 18 of the first 19 contests of this season - until the bronchitis sidelined him, that is.

Let's admit it, even if they can't. The Cardinals can get by without Rolen for a few days.

Currently, the team is in the midst of its longest favorable stretch of the season. The Cardinals most recent, current and upcoming opponents, Pittsburgh, Washington and Cincinnati respectively, are expected by many, including this writer, to be bottom-feeders in the National League this season.

The remainder of the Cardinals players should be able to collect an ample quantity of wins even with Rolen sitting at home. In fact, they are doing just fine so far, having won all four games this week.

Exhibit "A" is one Scott Spiezio, who managed to rise to the top of an undistinguished group of players vying for bench spots on the 2006 Cardinals seemingly on the basis of a hot week to open Spring Training, his switch-hitting capabilities and defensive versatility.

Yet, by the time April came around, Spiezio had clearly stumbled into the regular season, after ending his spring hitting just .194. Still, he made the club out of Florida, taking over parts of the roles of the departed John Mabry and Abraham Nunez this season.

Spiezio continued his six-week descent by hitting just .125 on the regular season coming into this week, leading some fans to call for his departure. Yet, he responded when given the chance to fill in for Rolen.

Spiezio seems to have rediscovered his stroke, raising his average to a credible .259. Two home runs and seven RBI in 27 at-bats on the season is a most productive result, albeit in a small sample size.

So, all things considered, the timing of Rolen's current illness is good for him and his team, even if they are probably all unwilling or unable to recognize it. In other words, the Cardinals' long-term prospects for the 2006 season will be better served because of this forced vacation for Rolen, whatever its cause.

Even if he feels lousy because of it, it is just fine with me.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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