GOODYEAR, Ariz. — What Scott Rolen is looking for materialized Friday afternoon on a hot Arizona day at Goodyear Ballpark.
And it had nothing to do with his back or his shoulder or any other body part, other than his batting eye.
During a game against the Kansas City Royals, Rolen came to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning, the scored 0-0, with two runners on and two outs.
Rolen worked the count to 3-and-2 against right-hander Vin Mazzaro, fouled off two pitches, then banged a run-scoring single to left field, the first run during a 5-1 Cincinnati Reds victory.
ACKNOWLEDGING THAT it was an above-and-beyond at-bat, the Reds’ third baseman said, “That’s exactly what I was looking for. I’ll take that at any time of the week for the rest of the year.”
The big questions for Rolen are: how many games can he play, how long will his shoulder last and will his back withstand a season’s long punishment?
So far, so good. No problems. Rolen is playing every inning asked of him and doing it pain-free and with his old style and grace at third base.
“I feel great, everything is good,” he said after playing four innings Friday. “I’m at the point where I’m not worried about health, I’m worried about seeing the ball. It’s a better plan than having to go out there and be mechanical.”
Manager Dusty Baker likes what he see and said, “He’s getting read, not quite, but he is almost there. He fouled off quite a few pitches and, boom, next thing you know we have a two-out rally started.”
THE REDS DIDN’T start well Friday. Five of the first six batters struck out against left-hander Danny Duffy. And Drew Stubbs was the only one who DIDN’T strike out against Duffy. He led off by flying to right.
Homer Bailey pitched three innings and gave up one hit and one walk.
After Rolen’s run-scoring single in the fourth, the former German hockey player who never touched a baseball until he was 15, Donald Lutz, crushed a three-run home run, his second of the spring.
IT IS CLEAR that manager Dusty Baker is not enthralled with third baseman Juan Francisco reporting to camp 12 pounds overweight.
Francisco played his first game in the field Thursday and was 1 for 5, a home run.
“He is getting better, moving around a little better,” said Baker. “We’re still trying to get him in shape, which he should have been already. He is progressing.”
CLOSER RYAN MADSON still hasn’t appeared in a game, but Baker said, “He is progressing well. A game? I don’t know yet. Whenever the doctors clear him.”
Pitching coach Bryan Price said Madson is still playing catch on flat ground and isn’t yet ready to progress to throwing off a mound, so a game appearance is not in the immediate future.
“Once he progresses from throwing on flat ground, then we’ll progress to other things,” said Price.
A FEW DAYS AGO, Joey Votto asked me to name my all-time Top Five Cincinnati Reds. I listed Frank Robinson as No. 1 and Johnny Bench as No. 2. Votto agreed.
On Friday, Bench showed up in camp and Votto called me over next to Bench and said, “Hey, Johnny, I asked Hal for his Top Five All-Time Reds and he only had you listed second behind Frank Robinson. I had you No 1.”
Then he laughed and walked away.
I said to Bench, “You revolutionized the catching position and you could hit the hell out of the ball.”
Bench smiled and said, “Let Robby go behind the plate And I had lung cancer. Hey, I’m in the Hall of Fame and they can’t take that away from me.”
Votto approached me later, laughing as he said, “I had to do that to you.” Indeed, it was a good prank And I told Votto, “Some day you may be in my Top Five if you stick around here long enough.”
SEAN CASEY was wearing the uniform Friday in camp that never should have been taken away from him — Reds uniform No. 21 with ‘Casey’ on the back.
He was traded to Pittsburgh for a pitcher named Dave Williams, a guy who sent hitters fighting at the bat rack to get into the batter’s box.
“When I got off the plane at the Pittsburgh airport to go to the press conference after the trade, I couldn’t even get in the car that was waiting for me. I was crying too hard,” said Casey. “All I wanted to do was finish my career in Cincinnati.”
A few months after Casey was traded, the man who traded him, Dan O’Brien, was fired and the Reds brought in Scott Hatteberg to play first base.
Casey, who did a few Reds TV broadcasts last year, won’t be doing any this year. Why? He wasn’t asked.
WHEN DUSTY BAKER goes out to eat, he is just as content to have a chopped steak (hamburger) as a filet mignon. But not so with his 11-year-old son, Darren.
Asked if Darren likes the fancy steaks, Baker said, “Does he? What did you have last night at Donovan’s, son?”
Darren smiled and said, “A bone-in New York strip steak.”
“Yeah, for $51,” said Baker. “And he didn’t eat it all. But he’ll have steak and eggs for breakfast. He did order Brussels sprouts and ate ‘em all.”
THERE WAS A ROAR of an engine in the players parking lot Friday morning as some of the Reds took batting practice.
“That car sounds Cuban,” said third baseman Scott Rolen.
The Lamborghini wasn’t Cuban, but the driver was. It was Aroldis Chapman, headed for Scottsdale to pitch for the split squad team that played the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale.
Chapman faced six hitters and retired all six.Tweet