Phillies' Rollins back in the game

Posted: March 14, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Jimmy Rollins' 3-day hiatus from the starting lineup will come to an end this afternoon in Bradenton, Fla., when he is scheduled to bat second and play shortstop against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But yesterday, when his odd absence from the lineup was entering a third day, Rollins thought Ryne Sandberg was angry with him. And the manager juggled an excuse for resting the former MVP while also admitting there was an issue at hand, too.

"Obviously he's upset about something," Rollins said shortly after arriving at the ballpark yesterday.

Following the Phillies' 6-2 win over the New York Yankees in an exhibition game, Sandberg said Rollins' rest was not disciplinary. He wanted to see reserve Freddy Galvis at shortstop for three games while also making sure he didn't run veterans like Rollins and Chase Utley into the ground this spring with a long regular season ahead.

But . . .

Sandberg also said he had a conversation with Rollins before yesterday's game regarding comments the player made in the Daily News earlier this week regarding the Phillies' offensive struggles this spring.

"Who cares?" Rollins said in Tuesday's Daily News. "When the season starts, that's when results matter. There really is no other way to put it. No one talks about preseason in June . . . No one does."

Although Sandberg could not nail down where or when he was first made aware of the "Who cares?" comments, he did hear them and he made a point to discuss them with Rollins for clarification.

"Jimmy cares," Sandberg said. "I wanted to make sure that he wasn't speaking for the ball club with 'Who cares?' . . . I know and believe that everyone in the locker room including my staff cares. Now what he was referencing to was himself and where he's at right now as far as his offensive stroke and what he's doing on the field. So he was speaking for himself that he wasn't that concerned with it being that early in the spring."

Fair enough.

But it was just a bit curious that Rollins' first absence from the starting lineup came on Tuesday, when the shortstop's words first appeared in the paper and quickly made their way to Bright House Field. When the team's struggles are featured on the paper's back page under the headline, "Whiff Kids," the team is going to notice.

Rollins' comments were certainly not ignored by Sandberg.

Prior to the team's 2-hour bus trip to Lake Buena Vista on Tuesday morning, Sandberg made a last-minute adjustment to his starting lineup. Rollins' name was whited out, Freddy Galvis was Sharpie'd in.

"I just got a call in the morning that said you're not on the trip," Rollins recalled.

Sandberg said yesterday it was "just a change of the lineup." But Galvis would start at shortstop on Wednesday and yesterday, too.

"Oh, it is unusual," Rollins said yesterday morning, prior to talking with Sandberg. "But I'm not going to try to second-guess or predict or come up with a reason why."

Ryno?

"First of all I wanted to see Freddy play 3 days in a row," Sandberg said. "He has a tendency to get long with his at-bats. I wanted him to experience that and play 3 days in a row . . . [Rollins] has got his playing time and at-bats coming up. It's also a long season playing up the middle so with him and Chase I'm careful with their days. I know the grind of a season and Jimmy plays over 150 games a year."

Rollins, however, has played in just seven of the Phillies' 14 games this spring. Among regulars, Carlos Ruiz (eight games) is the only player besides Rollins to have played in fewer than 10 games.

Rollins also was out of the lineup for three straight games last week and four out of a five-game stretch (from March 2-6) while battling a stomach flu. Rest, Rollins has had.

"I'm healthy," Rollins said yesterday morning. "I could play. I probably started getting healthy over the flu about Monday, when I had all my energy back."

Rollins played on Monday, going hitless in three at-bats. He is in an 0-for-12 funk and hitting .133 in Grapefruit League play.

The longest-tenured Phillie hasn't stepped in the batter's box since Monday.

When Sandberg was first asked about Rollins' absence on Wednesday, he said the shortstop was "fine" and he also praised Galvis for the 24-year-old's infectious positivity and energy. Sandberg was then asked how he felt about Rollins in those intangible departments.

"No comment," Sandberg said.

Just as Rollins' two words from earlier in the week made their way to Sandberg, the manager's two words were relayed to Rollins before he spoke to the media yesterday morning.

"Everyone is allowed to have their opinion," he said. "That doesn't make it right."

Later, Rollins spoke with Sandberg. Following the game, Sandberg said he wished he chose his words better rather than offering a free-for-interpretation "no comment."

"I would liked to have not said that and expand on what Jimmy has to offer and what he means to the ballclub," Sandberg said.

Sandberg went on to call Rollins "an important part of the team" who arrived to camp in shape each spring.

"He has again this year," Sandberg said, while segueing into the shortstop's random rest. "With cuts right around the corner and other things going on, I was giving guys chances to play."

Even before talking with Sandberg, Rollins appeared mostly unaffected by his unannounced or scheduled absence from the lineup this week. Although he was on Day 3 of waiting for Sandberg to approach him - the Phillies had back-to-back road games this week and the manager obviously wasn't in Clearwater - Rollins believed there weren't any larger issues at hand.

Rollins said the two talk every day - with the exception of this week - and believes their union will work in 2014.

"Why wouldn't it work?" Rollins said.

Rollins, however, also stood by his "Who cares?" comments regarding spring training stats and results. At the time of his comments, following Monday's 8-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies had won just two of 13 exhibition games and ranked last in baseball in hitting, OPS, OBP and runs-per-game.

"It's true," Rollins said of putting stock in spring-training numbers as a precursor to the regular season. "It's apples and oranges. No matter how much you want the orange to taste like an apple, it's an orange. No matter what. No matter how much you want these games to count for something, when April comes around, people aren't talking about [spring training]."

Perhaps Rollins chose his words better yesterday. But Sandberg heard his words earlier in the week, and even if it wasn't the reason he rested Rollins, it was enough to call for a discussion with his veteran shortstop.

"I wanted him to clarify that because I wanted to make sure that he cared," Sandberg said. "And I wanted to make sure - I know that everyone else in the locker room cared. So when he told me about what he was talking about, it made sense."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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