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Updated: June 30, 2010, 2:26 AM ET

Rolen provides Reds with solid presence

By Aaron Boone
ESPN
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It's almost July and the Reds remain just a half-game back of St. Louis in the NL Central. The last time Cincinnati was playing this well? Well, that was 1999, when I was just a young player in Cincinnati. Anytime you're on a winning team people will find similarities, but I think what makes this 2010 team special is the same thing that drove our success 11 years ago -- a standout veteran presence blended with an eager group of young talent. And no one personifies veteran leadership like Scott Rolen.

[+] EnlargeScott Rolen
AP Photo/Al BehrmanIs 37-year-old Scott Rolen off to a slow start this season or has age caught up to the Reds slugger?

When general manager Walt Jocketty traded for the 35-year-old third baseman late last July, most people wondered what on earth he was doing. The Reds weren't really in the race and they were going to take on a big contract for a guy who hadn't been completely healthy in a couple of years. Well, those raised eyebrows have settled and Jocketty's gamble turned out to be one of the best moves a big league team has made in the past few years.

Rolen has completely revived the Reds in a number of ways. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, he plays third base with the athleticism and range of a shortstop but the big strong arm of a third baseman. He was a tremendous basketball talent in high school and you can really see that physical versatility on the field. With seven Gold Gloves, Rolen's defensive leadership cannot be overlooked.

At the plate, Rolen went from starring in the middle of a lot of great Cardinals lineups to battling some injuries and, seemingly, staring straight at the decline of his batting career. Yet this season, he's batting .301 and leading the NL in slugging percentage (.582). He hit his 300th home run Monday night, and he's on pace to have his best offensive season yet.

More than anything, however, I think Scott Rolen has brought the right attitude to Cincinnati's clubhouse. He and Orlando Cabrera have drilled in a message -- every single night, for every single out, their team must play hard, no-nonsense baseball. When Pokey Reese, Sean Casey, Mike Cameron, Dmitri Young and I were all relatively new to the league and playing together for the Reds, it really helped to have veteran players like Greg Vaughn, Barry Larkin, Pete Harnisch and Denny Neagle set a similar tone in the clubhouse. Larkin, the veteran Reds shortstop, took me under his wing from the outset. Guidance like that from a player who's been there a number of years is really inspiring for someone trying to establish himself in the league. I'm sure that Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, two of the Reds' numerous young stars, have benefited from the leadership -- on and off the field -- of Scott Rolen.

Take, for instance, what Rolen did Tuesday night. It underscores what I mean about his value to this team. He was, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, going to get a day off Wednesday for an early afternoon game against the Phillies. The Reds want to rest him some, especially on day games after night games. But Rolen noted that his replacement, Miguel Cairo, would have had to face Phillies ace Roy Halladay. The last time Rolen took a day off, Cairo had to face Zack Greinke. Rolen told manager Dusty Baker he thought that wasn't fair to Cairo, so Rolen took Tuesday off and will be in the lineup Wednesday afternoon against Halladay. That's what a veteran, a good teammate, does.

With pitching help on the horizon (Edinson Volquez and Homer Bailey coming back from injury) and Aroldis Chapman working his way through the minors as he transitions to the bullpen, the Reds are in great position to continue to contend for the NL Central crown. And though a young nucleus of arms and bats continues to thrive in Cincinnati, it's hard to imagine where Baker's club would be without the impressive all-around play of Scott Rolen.

Aaron Boone is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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Wednesday's Best Matchups

Tigers at Twins, 1:10 p.m. ET

Andrew Oliver makes his second career start. His first outing, against the Braves, went well even though he walked away with the loss. Oliver allowed five hits and two runs over six innings at Atlanta, but the Tigers' offense could muster only one run against Kris Medlen and four Braves relievers.


Mets at Marlins (in San Juan, Puerto Rico), 7:10 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Mets starter Mike Pelfrey (10-2, 2.74 ERA) enters this game second in the NL in wins and ninth in ERA. Pelfrey, for the record, won 10 games all of last season, in 31 starts. He's made only 15 so far this year. Since June 7, the Marlins' Chris Volstad (4-7, 4.40 ERA) is 1-5 in nine starts.


White Sox at Royals, 8:10 p.m. ET

When June opened, Jake Peavy was 4-4 with a 6.23 ERA. He enters his final start of the month a much different pitcher, one who owns a 7-5 mark with a 4.71 ERA. This month, he is 3-1 with a 1.20 ERA, striking out 24 against six walks in 30 innings. Zack Greinke has won his past two decisions to improve to 3-8 with a 3.72 ERA.

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