Sandberg seeks to downplay rift with Rollins

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins sits out for the third straight game Thursday. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins sits out for the third straight game Thursday. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 15, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Wite-Out covered Jimmy Rollins' name Tuesday morning on the Phillies' lineup card. Someone in the clubhouse called Rollins and told him not to drive to Orlando for the day's game against Atlanta. His presence was no longer mandated.

The shortstop's name was missing from Wednesday's lineup, too, and he did not play Thursday. That marked three days on the bench for a healthy regular during the middle of spring training, something Rollins called "unusual." His manager, Ryne Sandberg, disputed that notion.

There will be no public friction between the two men, although signs of a strained relationship persisted. "Obviously he is upset about something," Rollins said Thursday morning. Sandberg, in what sounded like prepared remarks after a 6-2 win over the Yankees, insisted that Rollins was not benched. Rather, he wanted to see Freddy Galvis play for three straight games.

Rollins will start Friday. The shortstop and manager met Thursday after two days of silence between them. Sandberg wanted Rollins to clarify comments regarding the irrelevancy of spring-training performances. Rollins, no doubt, wanted to know why his manager said, "No comment," when asked Wednesday about Rollins' energy and influence on the Phillies.

The two men employ different philosophies. Sandberg prepared with utmost diligence during his Hall of Fame playing career and stressed that tenet at the start of his managerial tenure. Rollins is typically one of the last players to arrive every day - although never after the mandated reporting time - and believes in conserving his body for the game's more crucial moments. Both prospered with contrasting methods.

Sandberg adopted a diplomatic tone Thursday, but his annoyance at Rollins' practice tactics was evident.

"This is his 14th year in the major leagues, spring training," Sandberg said. "I think he knows where he needs to be in March. I know that he's going to be ready when he's got to be ready."

The first hint of any issue came after Wednesday's game in Sarasota, Fla., when Sandberg offered no explanation for Rollins' benching. Unprompted, Sandberg praised the "energy and his positive influence" of Galvis. When asked about Rollins in that regard, Sandberg said, "No comment."

It sounded like a message for Rollins delivered through reporters.

"Well, everyone is allowed to have their own opinion," Rollins said. "It doesn't make it right, but he's the manager, so he gets to have the last say."

Sandberg said he regretted that candid moment.

"You know," Sandberg said, "I would like to have not said that and expand on what Jimmy has to offer and what he means to the ball club."

The manager sought damage control Thursday. He said Rollins is "an important part of the team." He said it was best to rest Rollins in the middle of spring training, although a stomach virus limited Rollins before. He has 15 at-bats in 16 spring games.

Rollins again questioned the value of assessing spring statistics.

"It's apples and oranges," Rollins said. "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 this. People aren't talking about, 'Well he had a great spring training.' Maybe for the first two days or the first week. But if you start out 0-5 that doesn't matter. If you start out 5-0, that doesn't matter because you're doing it right now."

Sandberg inherited an aging roster; his loyalty to those players is still an unknown. Rollins characterized his relationship with Sandberg as "good." Sandberg's first managerial test is one that two Phillies managers before him confronted. Rollins, the longest-tenured player in Philadelphia, has been criticized for his aloofness.

When Charlie Manuel clashed with Rollins, the shortstop said his former manager made his intentions clear. Manuel managed for nine seasons, and the transition to a new personality in Sandberg will require time.

"He's completely different from Charlie from the very onset," Rollins said. "We're still learning him, he's still learning us from this side of it."

Rollins, 35, has spent his entire career with the Phillies. He will become the franchise's all-time leader in hits with 60 more. He said last summer he would not waive his no-trade clause.

Rollins is guaranteed $5 million in 2015 with a player option. That could swell to $11 million if he nets 434 plate appearances in 2014. Rollins said he does not fear the Phillies will manipulate his playing time after this situation.

"That's OK," Rollins said of his benching. "It's the 13th of March, not April."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb www.inquirer.com/

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