Inside the Phillies: Rollins may be key to a Phillies lineup in limbo

Jimmy Rollins watches a hit fall in. "What I'm proud about right now is that mentally I'm doing what I need to do," he said.
Jimmy Rollins watches a hit fall in. "What I'm proud about right now is that mentally I'm doing what I need to do," he said.
Posted: March 21, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Charlie Manuel, in the midst of a lineup lament late Sunday afternoon, described what he's searching for as the days dwindle here in the bright Florida sun.

"A special player is an everyday player in the big leagues," the Phillies manager said. "I say that all the time. It takes a very, very, very, very special player to play in the big leagues."

Manuel placed extra emphasis on that final very. The fact that he used the word four times is interesting, too. In recent years, the Phillies were loaded with those very, very, very, very special players. He had at least one to match each very.

Now, with Jayson Werth in Washington and Chase Utley limited to batting practice and lawn-chair-range grounders, the lineup Manuel will send out early this season isn't going to look very, very, very, very special at all.

There are more unknowns than superstars, and Manuel's prediction before the start of spring training that the Phillies would find a good man to fill Werth's void in the five hole is less than guaranteed.

What Manuel and the Phillies need more than anything else this season is for one of the very, very, very, very special players in the clubhouse to be special again. Last season, shortstop Jimmy Rollins was neither special nor an everyday player. He was mostly marked absent, missing 74 regular-season games while batting a career-low .243.

In a spring marred by Utley's knee injury and the uncertainty of Werth's replacement, one of the better storylines for the team has been the good health of the 32-year-old Rollins.

"I got down here early, I got on my feet, and it's like, 'OK, I'm good,' " Rollins said. "Physically, I'm not worried. Now I'm getting mentally ready and trying to turn it on and things of that nature. That feels real good. That's what I'm proud about right now is that mentally I'm doing what I need to do."

The fact that Rollins is in a good place physically and mentally is encouraging, and chances are that most of the time he is also going to be batting at the top of Manuel's lineup. During the Phillies' 8-1 loss to the New York Yankees Sunday at Bright House Field, however, Rollins batted third against lefthander CC Sabathia because Utley is out and Raul Ibanez was given the day off.

Manuel said not to read too much into where Rollins hit, even though the shortstop collected three hits and accounted for his team's only run with a sixth-inning home run off Sabathia.

"Right now, it don't mean a whole lot," Manuel said. "I was just getting guys up there on CC who can hit a fastball. Sometime during the season, Jimmy might have to hit third or fifth for us. He did last year and the year before that. We're trying to find our lineup."

Rollins believes he helps the team most at the top of the order - first or second - but he knows that with Utley out and Werth gone, no one other than Ryan Howard should feel too comfortable with his spot in the batting order.

"Charlie, if he gets a feeling, he's going to go with that," Rollins said. "He's going to do that with multiple guys. Guys are pretty much going to be in their positions, but every once in a while he's going to do that."

While Manuel is looking for a few good men to fill the major voids being left by Utley and Werth, Rollins is encouraged by what he's seeing in the clubhouse and the batting cage.

"I think whatever we need to do, the guys here are working on it," Rollins said. "There is always baseball talk, but this year we're talking about how to get the work done, and it's different. Guys are like, 'This is what I have to do, this is where I struggled, and this is how I want to improve.'

"We're all working towards that, and the results will come out over 162 games. Whatever needs to be done, we're definitely working in the right direction individually. I actually like that. The talk is more direct than it has been in the past. Guys are working with a purpose, and it's real nice."

Hard work and focus are good, but Rollins and Manuel agree that results are the only thing that matter, and the Phillies' best offensive results typically come when the shortstop gets on base.

"It makes everything go," Rollins said. "When that guy gets on, the car is in first [gear]. When it doesn't happen, you're revving in neutral and waiting for something to happen. Even if [Howard] gets up there and hits a home run [with nobody on], there's a run on the board, but the car is still in neutral. When the top guys get on with speed, the motor is running, something is going to happen. Now you don't need a home run to score. That's how you feel. We put ourselves in that situation where you don't need a home run to score, it makes it easier on everybody."

Especially the manager.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or


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