ST. LOUIS — Albert Pujols’ home run drought is nothing compared with Scott Rolen’s march through the desert.
Pujols hasn’t homered in 22 games, a career worst slump, but still has 16 for the season. For Rolen, Pujols’ St. Louis Cardinals teammate, this was supposed to be the season when everything returned to normal. Another offseason would further distance him from shoulder surgery in August 2005 that hindered him most of last year, and he’d be as good as new.
Instead, Rolen more than any player, is responsible for the power void in the middle of the lineup. He hit 22 home runs last year while still on the mend, but at the All-Star break his long ball total was an embarrassingly low four.
The World Series champions have been plagued by injuries this year, getting only one start before elbow surgery from Chris Carpenter and, bringing back memories of last year’s second half, missing Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein for extended periods.
Rolen, who’s batted fourth and fifth most of the year, knows he also bears considerable responsibility for the Cardinals’ 40-45 record at the break. His defense has been brilliant as usual, but there’s been little pop.
“I know if I had more home runs or had swung the bat better or driven in more runs, we’d be in a better situation,” Rolen said. “Of course, you want to do your best.”
It’s been a perplexing first half for Rolen, who’s third on the team but with only 38 RBIs. Only 19 of his 68 hits have gone for extra bases. It’s also a shortage that he vows to straighten out on his own.
“I think I’m the one that’s going to work through it,” Rolen said. “I’m going to keep going out there and I’m going to keep swinging the bat.
“I’m going to keep working in the cage and I’m going to keep doing what I’ve done to help me have success in the past, and we’ll see what happens then.”
That’s Rolen’s independent streak coming out again. Last fall he clashed with manager Tony La Russa after finally admitting to shoulder fatigue near the end of the regular season, and ended up getting benched twice in the postseason.
La Russa, at least publicly, has not demanded more from Rolen.
“Talking about extra-base hits, home runs, never is good for a hitter. Never,” La Russa said. “The only thing that’s good to talk about is hard, consistent contact.
“He’s got to do what any of these guys need to do, get two or three singles.”
Throughout the team’s seven-game homestand heading into the All-Star break, Rolen was far from satisfied. He had five RBIs in a two-game stretch Monday and Tuesday, three of them coming on a bases-loaded triple in an 11-3 blowout over the Diamondbacks. He was credited with a game-winning RBI double against Arizona on Wednesday after right fielder Eric Byrnes missed on a sliding catch attempt, a play that Byrnes said after the game is usually fairly routine for him.
Rolen has never really considered himself a pure power hitter, describing home runs as “a double gone awry.”
But, he adds, “You have to hit a double before it goes awry.”
Rolen insists he feels healthy, just not at the plate. Much of the year, the swing from the strapping 6-4, 240-pound player appears to have been all arms.
“Certain balls are not jumping off the bat the way I would like them to,” Rolen said. “There’s a lot of reasons for that. I’m not behind the ball enough or putting strong enough swings on balls.”
Excellent defense and durability have been his major assets. It’s not surprising that Rolen couldn’t wait to escape for a few days during the break.
“The numbers haven’t been there,” he said. “But I’m playing every day. I’ll keep working and taking swings and maybe some balls will start going out of the park.”