Rollins opens up about the future of the Phillies
Jimmy Rollins has a .358 on-base percentage since Ryne Sandberg took over as Phillies manager. (USA Today Images)
Jimmy Rollins doesn’t think the Phillies’ offense needs outside help.
In an interview last weekend with CSN’s Marshall Harris, Rollins recognized Darin Ruf as the right-handed bat the Phils have needed since Hunter Pence was traded. Never one to shy away from telling the team what it needs, Rollins thinks the Phillies are well set-up with emerging young players.
“That old window's closed," Rollins admitted. "This is a brand new thing. You've still got the pieces, but this is a brand new thing going forward.
“Obviously we would love to have that right-handed bat, but Darin Ruf has come up and done that so far. We're going to get Ryan [Howard] back, hopefully a healthy Ryan back on his legs and strong.
“So you’ve got Ryan at first and Darin Ruf over in left, Dom Brown in right, little Ben [Revere] in center. That’s pretty good. The lineup is good.”
Good? Maybe with a healthy Howard back in the fold and a full year of Ruf and Revere. But keep in mind this is a team that hit better than .251 in only one month this season, and had an on-base percentage of .303 or worse in April, May, July and August. (Notice, by the way, that Rollins himself slots Brown in at right field and Ruf in left, the opposite of how it's gone this year.)
The Phils have hit .237 with a .300 OBP and left almost seven men on base per game since Howard went down. The numbers are even worse since Revere’s last game, eight days later.
And the offense has bottomed out in September, hitting a major-league low 12 home runs.
Still, Rollins believes in the guys around him. Maybe he has no choice but to, but he was convincing when discussing the future.
“This isn't [something I] think, this is for sure, I'm telling you,” Rollins said. “Only question right now is Ryan's health. We haven’t seen him in a while. We text, but we never really ask 'How you doin?' It's other stuff, just life stuff. When Ryan's going to come back -- and hopefully be healthy when he is -- that’s going to be a big part of our lineup.”
‘Healthy’ is the key word. Howard hasn’t been that for two seasons, and as a result hasn’t hit. He played 151 combined games in 2012 and 2013, which measures out to almost one full season. During that time he hit .244/.307/.445 with 25 homers, 99 RBIs, 48 walks and 194 strikeouts. All of those numbers, except the strikeouts, would represent career-lows over a full season. If Howard produces a line like that in 2014 Phillies fans will assuredly be disappointed.
But perhaps Ruf’s presence could help Howard moving forward. Howard has hit .173 vs. lefties in each of the last two seasons, with nine homers, eight walks and 84 strikeouts. Those numbers paint a very clear picture that Howard should not be starting every game against left-handed pitchers. Ruf could be the perfect platoon piece.
“We're still good,” Rollins said. There’s no doubt about it. We’ve gone through some changes, some transitions, we have a new manager now, and things are definitely looking up.”
The Phillies hit rock bottom in mid-August when they were essentially forced to fire Charlie Manuel. There’s an old saying that you don’t bounce ‘til you hit the ground.
“It started a year ago,” Rollins said of the Phils’ struggles. “The  season just kinda got out of hand. No one could really explain how or why, it just happened. This year, there was a lot of hope. We tried to make some changes but it just wasn't happening. And, unfortunately, the guy at the top is always the one that gets fired. You can’t go releasing all the players, its easier just to get rid of the manager. Charlie's always said, 'If I'm not doing my job, then they'll get rid of me.' And he understood that’s part of being a manager. You get hired to get fired one day.”
Despite hitting a late-September lull, the Phils have played more inspired baseball under Ryne Sandberg. Cesar Hernandez has produced at the top of the order. Chase Utley has looked like the Chase Utley of old. Carlos Ruiz has rebounded to have a strong second half. Ruf continues to work counts and produce extra-base hits.
Above all, the one thing you can’t argue with is their new approach at the plate. The Phillies had 73 walks over Manuel’s final 36 games. They have 117 walks over Sandberg’s last 36.
Long criticized for not working counts, Rollins has a .358 on-base percentage since Sandberg took over. He has 23 walks, or one every 6.6 trips to the plate. Sandberg made a priority of getting Rollins back to being productive, and the shortstop appears to have bought in.
“I would like to win a couple more championships,” Rollins said. “There’s no doubt about that. If it can’t be a couple, at least one more so I have a couple while I'm here and be part of a run that’s brought more championships than any other era prior to mine getting here. I’m sure Chase would love that, Ryan would love that, Chooch, Cole [Hamels]. Just so we can make our own little bit of history."