The Spuds Dilemna

Since the injury to Scott Rolen rookie Todd Frazier has been a solid contributor to the Reds run which has left them atop the NL Central. Now that Rolen has returned it might be time for a decision reminescent of one made nearly a quarter century ago.

Does this sound familiar? Coming into the season the Reds' projected starter at third base was a returning veteran past his 35th birthday. That's a bit long in the tooth for the position, but he'd forged a distinguished career since arriving in the big leagues sixteen years earlier and garnered a slew of gold gloves. Besides, it was only two years prior when he hit 20 HR's after coming to Cincinnati from the A.L. in a trade during the previous season. His early trip to the DL gave an opportunity to a 26 year-old rookie who thrived and gave the Reds a boost from an unexpected source.

Of course the year is 1988, the veteran is Buddy Bell, and the rookie is Chris Sabo. Bell's roots in the Queen City ran deep. The Cincinnati native graduated from Moeller H.S. and hoped to retire with the Reds, the same team for whom his father was a four¬-time all-star in the 50's. He was traded for a player to be named later (Carl Grovom) and had only 83 AB's the following season which ended his MLB playing career.

The bespectacled Sabo went on to win rookie of the year and was a major contributor to the Reds world championship team two years later. He eventually left Cincinnati after six years, but not before his style of game endeared him to Reds fans. A pit bull frequently seen in beer commercials of the day led to the nickname "Spuds" hung on him. His toughness prompted then-manager Pete Rose to say: "He reminds me of myself, but I couldn't run as fast." That was quite a comment, coming from a man forever known as Charlie Hustle.

Twenty-four years later Reds manager Dusty Baker could be facing an eerily similar decision with Scott Rolen and Todd Frazier. After starting the season at Louisville (managed by Bell's son David) Frazier is hitting .265 in 136 AB for the Reds while slugging .544 with 7 HR. In Sabo's rookie season he finished at .271 with only 11 HR in 538 AB. Different home venues can account for some of the difference in power numbers, but still, Frazier is hitting home runs at a rate that would yield 24 per 162 games. That would be higher if more than 53 of his 87 games had been starts because he's homered in over 5% of his at-bats. His sample size is still small, but it definitely merits an extended look.

Unlike Bell, there were questions regarding Rolen coming into the season. Bell was coming off a solid 1987 hitting .284/.369 OB% with 17 HR. Meanwhile an injury-riddled 2011 limited Rolen to only 65 games. Actually there was a hint of a breakdown in 2010 when he hit only three homers after July 1 and finished the season by striking out in eight of eleven plate appearances in the Phillies' sweep of the Reds in the NLDS. There were reasons to be optimistic for a rebound this year after he hit .356 in spring training, but thus far in 2012 he's at .175 in over 100 AB. Right now Reds management would be happy if he could provide comparable productivity to what they're already getting from Frazier.

It's easy to root for a player like Rolen who's been a solid MLB citizen for a long time. Since his 2009 arrival in Cincinnati there's been one constant for the Reds: They win when they're getting production from the hot corner. He has flashed leather in the field that delighted Reds fans who had long since gotten their fill of the enigma which was Edward Encarnacion's glove. Meanwhile the Reds have gone 21-11 in games that Frazier has started at third this season. They're only 8 games over .500 right now while sitting atop the N.L. Central.

It's too early to tell if the rehab will allow the veteran to play at a level expected of Scott Rolen. He started out well enough going 2-6 with a homer at Louisville and 2-4 with a couple of RBI in his first game back with the Reds. After that he went 0-7 as the Tribe finished off a sweep in Cleveland. The timing of his return postponed any decision while an extra hitter was needed at DH. The Reds return home this weekend to end their interleague schedule against Minnesota.

Frazier gained celebrity as a youth when he led the Toms River (NJ) squad to a Little League World Series championship. He also has experience playing left field where he's been the past two games. That may ultimately offer a solution. However, it could get crowded out there when Drew Stubbs returns to action from an abdominal strain. Meanwhile Chris Heisey has the highest average of any of the outfielders and Ryan Ludwick has gone 8-20 in his last five games.

It's difficult to think that two likeable players can't coexist in the same lineup. However, as everyone knows, professional sport is an extremely competitive business. Baker has shown a penchant for loyalty to veterans and Rolen will get his shot. It will be interesting to see how long that will last if he's unable to recapture the magic of years past. It will be a tough decision, but nearly a quarter century later no one is criticizing Rose for giving the job to Sabo.

News from the Farm:

Louisville had a six run second inning en route to an 11-6 win finishing off a four-game sweep over visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cody Puckett was 3-4 with a walk and two RBI. He went 9-14 with four walks over the series. Joey Gathright, Dioner Navarro, Paul Janish, and Daryl Jones had two hits each. The Bats got home runs from Janish and Bill Rhinehart. On the mound starter Tim Gustafson threw five innings and allowed three runs (one earned) to get the win.

Pensacola opened the second half of their season with a 3-2 loss at Chattanooga. The Wahoo offense was limited to only four hits. Leadoff hitter Ryan LaMarre did his job by reaching base three times on a double and two walks. Tim Crabbe allowed all three of the Lookout runs to take the loss after pitching five innings. Chris Manno and Curtis Parch combined for three scoreless innings of relief. In other news Canadian Kyle Lotzkar was selected to play for the World team in this year's Futures Game.

Bakersfield scored in each of the first four innings and added on late while cruising to a 12-2 win at Rancho Cucamonga. Tucker Barnhart went 5-5 with a two-run homer while scoring three times. The catcher is now batting .290 on the season. It was announced that Billy Hamilton will play for the US team in the Futures Game this season. He celebrated by going 4-5 with a walk, three RBI and two runs. In his first game since a promotion from Dayton Steve Selsky homered twice. Dominic D'Anna, Travis Mattair, and Juan Duran also got in on the fun with two hits each including Mattair's ninth homer. On the mound Josh Smith got the quality start by allowing two runs in 6+ innings for his sixth win.

Billy Hamilton Theft Watch:

It's not likely that Hamilton will go without a steal in a game where he reached base five times and last night was no exception. He singled in the second and was caught attempting to steal second. He singled again in the fourth and stole second before the inning ended. He then led off the seventh with another single and swiped his second bag of the game. He drove in two with his fourth single in the eighth and walked in the ninth, but refrained from running in the blowout. He now has 82 SB in 99 attempts over 67 games.

Dayton will open the second half of their season tonight when they host Bowling Green. Jacob Johnson is the scheduled starter and Drew Stubbs is expected to make a rehab appearance in the outfield.

Billings won their third in a row over visiting Missoula 3-0. Sammy Diaz led the Mustangs with two hits and scored two of their runs. Five pitchers combined for the shutout and starter Sal Romano got the win by holding the Osprey to three hits without a walk over five innings.

The AZL Reds fell to 1-1 on the season after losing 7-5 to the visiting AZL Mariners. Johnathan Reynoso went 4-5 with two triples. Leadoff batter Ty Washington added another triple while going 3-4. Avais Rachal and Elliott Hargreaves added two hits each. Vaughn Covington got the start and allowed four runs in three innings. Austin Muerhing was the pitcher of record when he allowed two runs in less than one inning.

The DSL Reds scored two in the third and held on for a 2-1 win over the visiting DSL Diamondbacks. Jonahtan Suero had another multi-hit game by going 2-3 with a walk and one run. Junior Soto added two more hits with an RBI. On the mound Pedro Damian threw five scoreless and allowed only one hit to get the win. Josue Castellano threw a scoreless ninth for his fourth save. After allowing two runs in his first game of the season the left-handed closer's eight appearances since have been scoreless.

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