Inside the Phillies: Shortstop Jimmy Rollins needs his usual second half

Posted: June 06, 2012

Every baseball season has its landmark moments.

Opening day, the All-Star Game, and the trade deadline are all part of the annual cycle.

And if you follow the Phillies, there is always that point in every season when you wonder why in the name of Pete Rose is Jimmy Rollins still batting leadoff.

It arrives at different times for different people, but almost everyone at some point questions manager Charlie Manuel's logic for sticking with Rollins at the top spot in the lineup.

For many on this raw, rainy Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, the latest moment arrived in the bottom of the third inning when Rollins stepped to the plate against Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw, with Freddy Galvis at second base and one out.

When Rollins popped out to third base for the second out of the inning, it did not matter that Kershaw was the 2011 Cy Young Award winner. It only mattered that Rollins had made an out in a big situation and the decibel level of the boos that followed him back to the dugout were as loud as they've been all season.

His reaction?

"I could really care less, actually," Rollins said after the Phillies' 4-3 loss to the Dodgers pushed the team's record back to .500. "I was two millimeters away from enjoyment. I could really care less what they're doing. It doesn't bother me at all."

Rollins' skin is as thick as the cowhide that covers a baseball, and a few boos in June are not going to change his thinking about what he can still do this season.

"When you come from a family that talks trash . . . you stay to the grind," Rollins said, recalling the days when his mother Gigi taunted him in competition. "I get it from her. It's psychological warfare from the beginning before anything happens.

"Now, she has you thinking. The more you think, the more pressure you're naturally going to put on yourself because you want to prove her wrong. OK, Gigi, do your thing? I used to practice in my room with my brother, so I've mastered psychological warfare."

Rollins' life lessons as a kid in Northern California help him in these turbulent times when it seems as if the entire city wants to see somebody else batting leadoff.

"That has been here since 2001," Rollins said. "I also heard we couldn't win a championship with me batting leadoff, and obviously that wasn't true, so who cares? It comes with the territory."

Rollins batted twice more after the third-inning pop-out. He tripled in the fifth off Kershaw with one out, but was thrown out at the plate when he went on contact, a designed play that did not work because Placido Polanco's grounder was hit right at shortstop Dee Gordon, who was playing up to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring.

The shortstop also singled again in the seventh off Kershaw, but the Phillies left the bases loaded when Hunter Pence grounded out. It was another frustrating night for a frustrated team, and Rollins doesn't mind being the lightning rod when the offense struggles.

He can handle the blame even though he's hitting .324 in his last eight games.

"I'm doing all right," he said. "I see progress, and obviously they're little steps, but as a player that's what you look for. Does it always show up on the board? Not in a big fashion, but slowly but surely things are getting better. I come to the plate and I feel like I'm starting to get into that zone where I need my bat path to go. You start figuring it out.

"It doesn't always show up right away, and fans, they're entitled to their opinion. Always have been. I've never argued that. I got mad when they got on people who were filling in . . . because they're going after the wrong people, and that made me mad. But coming after me, it really doesn't bother me. I go in, do my work, and just like that they will cheer."

Manager Charlie Manuel was questioned about keeping Rollins in the leadoff spot before the game and offered a solid defense.

"Jimmy has gotten off to a slow start about almost every year since I've been here," Manuel said. "Go check it out. I go through this every year. Check it out and see if I'm wrong. There might have been one year or two years he got off to an OK start, but he's gotten off to a bad start almost every year since I've been here."

It's a valid point. Manuel arrived in 2005 and, with the exception of 2010, Rollins has been better in the second half than in the first every single season. There have been some particularly difficult stretches in April and May during that time period, too.

Rollins was asked whether he appreciated his manager sticking with him.

"Why shouldn't he?" he said.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow @brookob on Twitter.

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