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Rolen finding his swing

Rolen finding his swing
Baseball REPORTER,

When Scott Rolen went on the disabled list in August of last season, with his left shoulder once again acting up, he returned to his home in Florida to contemplate a career that was spiralling downward.

"Is that who I am now?" the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman asked himself.

An established hitting star who averaged about 27 home runs and 100 runs batted in over the first eight years of his career, a chronic shoulder problem has effectively shuttered Rolen's offensive numbers in recent years.

A radical alteration to his batting stance has put Rolen back in the swing of things during the initial baby steps of the 2009 season, which continued last night for the Toronto Blue Jays with their third game against the Detroit Tigers at the Rogers Centre.

Detroit, paced by a couple of home runs and RBIs by Miguel Cabrera, halted Toronto's modest two-game win streak with a 5-1 victory before a small crowd of 12,145.

Brandon Inge also homered, his third of the series, off Toronto starter Jesse Litsch.

Over the past four years, Rolen's shoulder has required three surgeries and he has had just 46 home runs and 231 RBIs while missing 223 games.

The 34-year-old was starting to feel like permanently damaged goods and he wasn't enjoying the view.

"About the time I went on the DL I talked to my wife at home and I said, 'I don't know, this is tough, this is hard,' " Rolen said yesterday. "If this is what it is, it's going to be a tough ride."

"I have battled so hard the last couple of years and couldn't make any headway."

Rolen believes salvation is at hand thanks to a physical intervention by Hap Hudson, a former major-league rehabilitation trainer for the Philadelphia Phillies, who now operates his own treatment facility in Oldsmar, Fla.

Rolen went to see Hudson after he went on the DL last season and Hudson suggested that the athlete lower his hands to shoulder level when he assumed his batting stance. Hudson said the adjustment would dramatically lessen the strain on his left shoulder when he swung.

It was a tough decision for Rolen, who for as long as he could remember has always gripped the bat with his hand hovering over his batting helmet.

"That was the problem," Rolen said. "I'd hit that way, counting the minor leagues, for 14 years and all of a sudden, 'Hey, by the way you can't do that anymore.' "

Desperate to find a fix, Rolen decided to give it a try and after working with Hudson for about three weeks in August he returned to the Jays and found the adjustment to his liking.

He batted .298 with four home runs and 12 RBIs over the final month of last season and this season has looked solid at the plate.

Rolen went 1-for-3 in the home opener. On Tuesday night, during Toronto's 5-4 comeback win, he went 2-for-4, including his first home run of the season.

Last night, Rolen had but a single in three official at-bats as the Jays struggled to find their stride against Detroit starter Zack Miner, who held Toronto to one run off six hits through 52/3 innings to earn the victory.

Litsch struggled from the outset. He allowed three of the seven hits he surrendered over six innings in the first, including a three-run home run by Cabrera that gave the Tigers the early jump.

Altering a swing is no easy feat but Rolen said he was out of options.

"I was at a point where I was done fighting it," said Rolen, who still has two years and $22-million (U.S.) to go on his contract. "I knew I couldn't do it the other way. It wasn't there. I tried and tried and tried and tried to kill myself, kept going on the DL.

"I finally had to say, 'Okay. It was either that or I'm going to be miserable for another two or three years.' So I dove in, let's do it."

Toronto manager Cito Gaston said he is enjoying Rolen's new swing.

"I think you have to be somewhere comfortable as a hitter," Gaston said. "I tell kids all the time ... make sure you have a bat that you can swing and you're comfortable with your stance."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 9, 2009

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