Rollins begins homer barrage as Phils rout Reds again

Jimmy Rollins hit a leadoff home run in the first inning on Sunday against the Reds. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Jimmy Rollins hit a leadoff home run in the first inning on Sunday against the Reds. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 20, 2014

The Phillies will spend Monday at Citizens Bank Park to raise money for ALS research before boarding a charter flight to Miami, and Tuesday will start a telling stretch of 54 games in 55 days. This season is a quarter completed. The first 41 games, capped by a 8-3 victory Sunday over Cincinnati, have offered scant clarity on this team's ultimate fate.

Signs of familiar problems from the previous two seasons have persisted. Any jolts of life, like the impressive display over the last two days in South Philadelphia, have often been followed by dullness.

The Phillies have a day to think about what happens next. They are 19-22, just as they were at this point in 2013, even with the benefit of a healthy roster. They must hope two wins like Saturday's and Sunday's are the sort of spark Ryne Sandberg envisioned. His offense produced 20 runs in two days. The eight games before this outburst yielded just 21.

"It was good to see the ball go out of the ballpark," Sandberg said.

The manager witnessed his lineup shake its prolonged offensive funk Saturday with a 12-run surge. His hitters responded Sunday to a quick 2-0 deficit. They supported another strong Cliff Lee outing. The bullpen held for seven outs. It was a sunny day to dream about summertime possibilities.

Given the overall lackluster play of Sandberg's team so far, those thoughts are reserved for optimists, a group thinned in recent years by continued mediocre baseball.

"You just saw in the last two days what can happen when we put together all three phases of the game, pitching and defense and our offense," said Cody Asche, one of four Phillies to homer Sunday. "We have been missing a piece or two here or there a couple games and dropped a couple tough ones. But I think you saw the potential of the team, not just the offense."

Sandberg, at least, discovered a batting order with temporary promise. Jimmy Rollins, who smashed his 46th career leadoff homer, was on base three times and twice scored while atop the lineup. Rollins batted first in each of the last two games, and it is safe to assume he'll be staying there.

Rollins has a .787 OPS this season, a significant improvement from his .667 clip a season ago. For one-fourth of a season, Rollins has produced at a level not achieved since his MVP season of 2007, when he smacked 38 doubles, 20 triples, and 30 homers with an .875 OPS.

The 35-year-old shortstop will never recapture that sort of power; his primary task now is to reach base. His current .359 on-base percentage would be a career best. That alone warrants Rollins a lengthy look atop the batting order.

"He has a real good approach up there and is hitting for average," Sandberg said. "He's working pitchers and taking walks."

Asche again batted sixth behind Byrd and ahead of Domonic Brown. The third baseman's three-run shot in the seventh turned a taut game into a rout. It marked the Phillies' first four-homer game since June 22, 2013, and just the fourth such game since the start of the 2012 season. They entered the day ranked 14th in the league with 27 home runs.

Wil Nieves batted higher than sixth for the first time in his 11-year major-league career. He drilled an 0-2 fastball, a pitch Reds lefthander Tony Cingrani regretted, for his ninth career homer immediately after Rollins' blast. The backup catcher has provided a big share of the bench's few bright moments.

The Phillies mashed back-to-back homers to start a game for the first time since Sept. 9, 2004. (Rollins and Placido Polanco did it that day in Atlanta.) They permitted a first-inning run for the seventh time in eight games, but a rejuvenated lineup more than compensated.

Sandberg believed the positive energy generated Saturday spilled into Sunday, even when the Phillies trailed minutes after Lee's first pitch.

"It was a carryover game on the offensive side," he said, "and hopefully that will continue."


BY THE NUMBERS

4

Homers by the Phillies, their first four-homer game since June 22, 2013.

46

Career leadoff home runs by Jimmy Rollins.

19-22

The Phillies' record, the same as it was at this point last year.


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb www.inquirer.com/

phillieszone

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