Sandberg has high expectations for Rollins
In subpar year, shortstop open to altering approach, but aims to stay true to himself
PHILADELPHIA -- This season is one to forget for Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
Ryne Sandberg hopes to change that, if not this year, then certainly in time for 2014.
Rollins, 34, entered Monday's series opener against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park hitting .248 with 23 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 34 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 463 at-bats. His .305 on-base percentage was 11th out of 19 qualifying shortstops in baseball, and the second-lowest mark of his career. His .339 slugging percentage was 15th, and the lowest mark of his career. His .644 OPS was 13th, and also the lowest mark of his career.
"Individual performances, they do come and go with the team play, there's no doubt about it," Rollins said. "When you're playing better [as a team], you're up. You're playing better because you're winning. When you're winning, you seem to do better. That's the way it is. I don't know why, but that's what it is with anybody."
Sandberg hopes to get things turned around as a team, but he also hopes to help Rollins improve as a hitter.
"If you're batting in the first or second spot, your job is to get on base and to do that, it's more about quality at-bats," Sandberg said. "With a guy with speed, it's about staying on top of the baseball and concentrating on hard ground balls and line-drive strokes. I think that's something he can work at and get better. I think that can help him for the rest of his career, so that's something that will be stressed.
"I've had conversations with him, but also, I think it's my role to let him know what I expect of him and what I think he can do and what I think the team can do. For me, that's staying on top of the ball and utilizing speed. … The other thing is that he gets a little bit pull-happy at times. We've had conversations about the big hole that's up the middle, how teams pitch him. A lot of teams, if they pitch him away, there is a big hole up the middle. So something like that, for him, will be a big deal."
On Monday, Sandberg talked extensively about Rollins, and the discussion surrounding him is understandable.
The Phillies need a productive Rollins to win in 2014.
"I have great conversations with him, [with] the constant communications of what is expected and needed from him," Sandberg said. "Is it going to happen overnight? No. But as we go forward and we have 39 games left, I talked to the guys on the first day, and told them that these games were, for them, on being evaluated, ending on a good note and making adjustments that need to be made. Now is a good time to try something."
Rollins said he is open to suggestions, but he also follows one of former manager Charlie Manuel's favorite sayings: Know thyself.
He knows he is going to pull the ball, because he can't let the ball get too deep on him and go the other way.
"I love to learn," Rollins said. "If you think you've figured out everything about the game, then the game is going to pass you by. Then you're going to become stale and you're never going to get better. With the hitting coaches, I'm always open to new suggestions. You can't be afraid to do that. You just can't lose yourself in the process.
"One of the things I've learned about myself, when I let the ball get deep and try to go the other way, that causes a lot of fly balls, being late, and then you have to catch up, then you're underneath the ball already."
Rollins said he does not try to hit home runs. He said he tries to drive the ball into the gaps for doubles, but when he is swinging well, the home runs are a byproduct of that success.
So then why are the doubles down?
"Defensive positioning has a lot to do with it," he said. "I do hit line drives in the gap. I'm traditionally a pull-hitter, and a lot of times this year, I'm hitting balls out to right-center, and they're picking them up before I get to first and I'm like, 'Wow, it didn't used to be like that.' They used to play me kind of straightaway. They always played the right fielder over toward the line a little bit, but it's kind of shifted everybody over, so that doubles gap that I used to hit in right-center -- they take that away. So those are just long singles now."
Rollins essentially has two years remaining on his contract, and he said he is confident that the next couple of seasons will be better than this. But he did indicate that the team's play has taken a toll on him, and there is no guarantee the losing will stop.
"It's new. It's different," Rollins said. "The last two years, actually, have been just different. I've always been part of the building process, not the rebuilding process. Chase [Utley], Ryan [Howard], myself, we were the guys where they were saying, 'Give them a couple years. Let them come up, and they'll be good.' Then we hit a plateau, where we were good for a long time, and then you lose players here, you lose players there, and they haven't been replaced, so it's back to a young crop of guys. As an older player you're just like, 'Rebuilding. What is that?' It's rough. You learn to deal with it, knowing you're going out there, almost every day you're outmanned. That's just the truth of the matter.
"You have to add pieces. That's what they've always done. They always were able to add a piece here and add a piece there. We've traded guys away, but I haven't seen any return on it that's in the big leagues that's excitable, I guess you could say."
Rollins was asked if he thinks the veteran core is still good enough to win.
"If you think four people are going to win the World Series, then you're wrong," he said.
But Rollins, Utley, Howard, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, etc., had always led the way in the past.
"And then look at the pieces we had around us," Rollins said. "See? All you can do is lead."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.