How Scott Rolen can still help the Reds

Scott Rolen has tinkered with his swing, but when it's right, he can still make an impact for Cincinnati. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

CINCINNATI -- Scott Rolen returned to the dugout Sunday after taking batting practice to grab a cup of water on a muggy summer evening, and he talked about his struggles at the plate. His left shoulder has been a pin cushion for doctors, and so he's trying to find a swing with a happy medium between functionality and comfort.

Rolen knows he is struggling, and in his conversations with Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, he has been deferential, Baker said, making it apparent that he will go along with whatever his skipper decides.

But Rolen believes he has more to give, and he gestured toward the scoreboard in left-center field, where every day his sub-.200 batting average has been displayed. "I know I'm better than that," he said.

A few hours later, the St. Louis Cardinals faced an eighth-inning crisis in a 2-2 game and chose to intentionally walk the No. 6 hitter in the Reds' lineup, Ryan Ludwick, to load the bases for the No. 7 hitter.

That was Scott Rolen.

He has more than 2,000 hits, more than 300 homers, more than 1,200 RBIs. If he didn't have that pedigree, if his name wasn't Scott Rolen, then Baker might've thought about pinch-hitting for him in that spot. In fact, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny probably issued the intentional walk knowing that Baker would not call back the veteran and insert someone like Todd Frazier.

Rolen has been trying to find a more direct path to the ball with his swing -- a fix that allows him to keep his swing short -- and facing Mitchell Boggs, Rolen laced a line drive over the second baseman's head, a two-run single, and the Reds' dugout erupted. Rolen rounded first and came back to the bag with a smile.

Rolen is nearing the end of his career, and his resume will be worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame. But Baker said before the game that he sees life in Rolen, that he still sees a veteran capable of being a piece of something good. On Sunday, he was the reason the Reds shook hands.

The Reds are in first place all by themselves in the aftermath of their sweep. Remember, Cincinnati has just started a 10-game homestand to open the second half in what is one of the two easiest schedules in the majors after the All-Star break (the Pittsburgh Pirates also have a relatively easy schedule).

The Pirates lost their first series out of the All-Star break and fell to second place.

The Cardinals missed a lot of opportunities. Lance Berkman was back in the lineup for St. Louis and immediately action required him to run from first to home.


Bryce Harper drew the wrath of Ozzie Guillen because of some pine tar. Beyond that spat, Stephen Strasburg did what Stephen Strasburg does, racking up strikeouts in big moments. Logan Morrison explains what happened here.

• Bobby Valentine placed the blame for his bad relationship with Kevin Youkilis on the third baseman.

Why say anything? How about "no comment?" How about moving on? The issue was dormant, and now it's not. Look, reporters are obligated to ask questions in situations like this, but managers and players don't have to respond.

Youkilis didn't respond.

The Boston Red Sox made the right choice to trade Youkilis.

Carl Crawford will be back in the lineup tonight, and the Red Sox will have to make a roster move.

Trade stuff

1. A whole bunch of scouts showed up to watch Cole Hamels pitch Sunday, which was a nice win for the Philadelphia Phillies, as Bob Brookover writes. The Phillies are trying like heck to sign Hamels.

Sources indicated Sunday the Phillies know that with Hamels so close to free agency, they will have to step up with an offer in the salary ballpark that Hamels will play in this fall. A Matt Cain deal -- five years, $112.5 million -- probably won't get it done, because Cain signed his deal a full season from free agency; Hamels is now just 79 days from reaching the end of the regular season. An offer like the Phillies gave to Cliff Lee -- five years and $120 million -- would give Hamels something to think about. A deal like Johan Santana signed -- six years and $137.5 million (albeit with a whole lot deferred) -- could be in that ballpark.

If the Phillies' offer isn't in that range, it'll really be just a public relations gesture.

2. Matt Garza pitched amid trade talk.

3. New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman is skeptical that he will make a deal.

4. Sources say the Oakland Athletics could be buyers and sellers because of their starting pitcher surplus: As Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy come back, Oakland could swap Bartolo Colon and McCarthy and Grant Balfour for some offensive help. The Athletics are faced with the same trouble that a lot of teams looking for infield upgrades are facing -- there just isn't much available.

5. It remains to be seen whether Chad Billingsley's recent elbow trouble will nudge the Los Angeles Dodgers into making a harder push for a starting pitcher, perhaps Ryan Dempster.

Dings and dents

1. It's official: Jason Hammel has been shut down for surgery, as Dan Connolly writes.

2. Jason Bay is making slow and steady progress.

3. The oblique strain that kept Ian Desmond out of the All-Star Game has flared up.

4. Gavin Floyd is dealing with some tendinitis.

5. The Toronto Blue Jays got bad news about Sergio Santos, whose season is over.

6. Jed Lowrie landed on the disabled list. That may take Lowrie out of trade market consideration, for now.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Minnesota Twins need a major overhaul, writes Jim Souhan.

2. Aubrey Huff is going to play in the minors, as Alex Pavlovic writes.

3. Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said Ichiro Suzuki will be back next year, and then he backed off those comments.

Ichiro is hitting .258 with 21 extra-base hits in 368 at-bats and has a .286 on-base percentage. He ranks 144th among 156 qualified hitters in the big leagues in OPS.

He has been a tremendous player for the Mariners, and when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, he should sail in. But it makes no sense for the Mariners to bring back Ichiro for next season unless they had a role for him. And in the American League, where there is very little pinch-hitting, it's hard to see what Ichiro could do for Seattle unless he improves at the plate.

Take it one more step: Bringing back Ichiro could well turn out to be like re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. for that brutal 2010 showing.

4. Hideki Matsui may be running out of time, writes Marc Topkin.

NL East notes

Ben Sheets was a miracle on the mound, writes Jeff Schultz. That's seven straight wins and counting for the Atlanta Braves, as Carroll Rogers writes.

From Elias Sports Bureau: Sheets allowed two hits in six innings against the Mets to earn a victory in his first major league appearance since 2010. Sheets, who didn't play in the majors in 2009 or 2011, became the first pitcher to start a game in the majors after twice missing entire seasons at age 30 or older since Scott Erickson returned to Baltimore in 2002 (after missing the 2001 season) and made another comeback with the New York Mets in 2004 (after not playing in the majors in 2003).

• The Mets had a really bad weekend.

AL East notes

• The Yankees' pitching got knocked around.

Josh Beckett wasn't good in the first inning, but he and the Red Sox bounced back.

• The Baltimore Orioles had no answers against a dominant pitcher. They are not alone.

Carlos Villanueva gutted it out, and he continues to help keep the Jays in play.

• At a really important point in the Rays' season, James Shields had a bad day.

AL Central notes

Chris Sale came through for the Chicago White Sox, again.

Justin Verlander was The Man for the Detroit Tigers. It's all coming together for Detroit.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Verlander won:

A) The Orioles were 1-for-13 against Verlander's off-speed pitches.

B) Aside from walking Adam Jones on a 3-2 pitch, Verlander retired 15 of the 16 batters who reached a two-strike count.

C) Worked low: 11 ground balls (58 percent of balls in play versus season average of 41 percent). The Orioles went 1-for-11 on low pitches, including 0-for-6 on balls that were in the strike zone.

Luis Mendoza has shown improvement.

• The Twins continue to give up a bunch of homers.

• The Cleveland Indians missed opportunities, and Cleveland fell into third place.

NL Central notes

Yovani Gallardo had arguably his best outing of the season.

• The Houston Astros lost again.

NL West notes

• The Arizona Diamondbacks got swept in their first series out of the All-Star break. From Nick Piecoro's story:

    Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero kept coming back to one word to describe the plight of his club, which again managed to follow a step forward with two steps back.