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News » Jim Salisbury: Lineup change good for Rollins, Phils

Jim Salisbury: Lineup change good for Rollins, Phils

Jim Salisbury: Lineup change good for Rollins, Phils
To understand what Jimmy Rollins felt when he walked into the Phillies' clubhouse yesterday and saw that he'd been dropped from the leadoff spot, you have to know this:

Rollins loves leading off. It's all he's ever wanted to do.

His love for the top spot in the batting order was spawned when he was a kid. Growing up near Oakland, Calif., he often made the trip to the Coliseum to watch the Athletics and their great leadoff man, Rickey Henderson.

Young Rollins idolized Henderson. The kid was so obsessed with the future Hall of Famer and the electricity he brought to a game that he would get upset if an A's game was not televised.

All these years later, Rollins was upset again yesterday.

He didn't raise his voice or stomp his feet, but there was no doubt he didn't like manager Charlie Manuel's decision to drop him from first to fifth in the lineup for last night's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Rollins' displeasure with Manuel's move was a beautiful thing. Because sometimes when something you love is taken away, it can be a tremendous wake-up call. The skipper clearly got Rollins' attention.

Manuel's little bit of shock therapy might have been the jolt Rollins needed to pick up the offensive side of his game. He had a good night in a 5-3 win, contributing a key RBI single in the fourth inning.

Rollins loves leading off for the Phillies , but he hasn't done a good job of it this season. The shortstop went into the game hitting .195. His on-base percentage was a dreadful .231. He'd walked just five times.

But the numbers actually are worse than that. Rollins has played in 29 games, 26 as the leadoff man. His on-base percentage as a leadoff man is .218, the worst in Baseball.

After Sunday's game, when Rollins went 0 for 5 in a 4-2 loss to Atlanta, Manuel was asked whether it was time to drop his leadoff man in the order.

"You tell me where he can go," Manuel huffed. "You tell me somebody who can hit in our No. 1 hole."

Manuel's response was not surprising. He doesn't conduct team business in news conferences.

Monday's day off gave the manager the time he needed to find a place for Rollins and a replacement in the leadoff spot.

Rollins went to the five hole, behind Ryan Howard and ahead of Raul Ibanez. Shane Victorino led off. Chase Utley and Jayson Werth hit second and third, respectively, against lefthanded starter Clayton Kershaw.

Rollins tried to play off the lineup change during what was at times a testy pregame session with reporters. He mentioned that Manuel had tinkered with the lineup before. He mentioned that he'd hit fifth one other time this season.

Rollins was right about both. But he was a little off in analyzing the reason Manuel altered the lineup. Rollins intimated that the lineup change was a reaction to the Dodgers' starting a lefty. It was not. It was because he had been struggling. It was because Manuel had to get him out of the leadoff spot - for his own good and the good of the team.

"I wanted to give him a different look, mix it up," Manuel said. "He wants to get going. Sometimes he tries too hard. Jimmy just has to find his swing. It's a feel. You have to relax and be tension free."

Manuel's decision paid dividends. Rollins had a terrific at-bat against Kershaw in the fourth. With two men on base, he fought off a tough 1-2 breaking ball to stay alive, then drove a fastball to the opposite field for an RBI single. That hit tied the game, 2-2. The next batter, Ibanez, followed with a two-run double as the Phils took a 4-2 lead.

Batting third, Werth had a pair of hits and stole four bases, including home. Manuel will stick with the same lineup tonight.

"You don't throw away a winning ticket, do you?" he said.

Rollins eventually will get his No. 1 spot back. He might not be your textbook, work-the-count, take-the-walk leadoff man, but he is the team's leadoff man, and the club's fate often is tied to him. When this guy is on his game, hitting balls hard and using his legs, wins often follow. Through his slumps over the years - and there have been a few - Rollins always has proved that.

"I'm a leadoff hitter, that's what I do," Rollins said. "It doesn't matter what the numbers say, I'm going to produce. With all these power hitters, it wouldn't make sense to leave me down in the lineup when my game is speed when I'm on base."

But that's the problem. He has not been getting on base this season. A team with a leadoff man that has a .218 on-base percentage will struggle for wins.

Manuel knows that. That's why he made the move last night. He took away something very dear to Jimmy Rollins, and the immediate returns were positive. Call it a jolt. Call it a wake-up call. If Rollins loves being a leadoff man so much, he'd better think about being a better one.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury

at 215-854-4983 or

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 13, 2009

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