Jimmy Rollins had a .305 on-base percentage entering Monday's game against the Rockies. (AP)
Ryne Sandberg has talked a lot about Jimmy Rollins the last couple of days. It’s pretty clear that getting more production from Rollins is one of Sandberg’s chief missions.
“It feels good to know you’re a priority,” Rollins said of his new manager’s attention.
Sandberg, who took over as the Phillies’ interim manager after Charlie Manuel was let go Friday, met with Rollins on Saturday.
“The main thing he said is I have my career and we have teammates, and he wants me to continue both in the right direction,” Rollins said. “More than anything is getting back to being the leader and leading the way because we have a lot of young guys and they look up to veteran players -- myself, Chase (Utley) -- especially the infielders, and just getting back to doing that and that’s fun.”
In terms of production, Sandberg told Rollins he wants him on base more. Rollins entered Monday night hitting .248 with a woeful .305 on-base percentage for the season. His .644 OPS ranked 141st out of 151 qualifying major-league hitters.
Rollins led off for the Phillies on Monday night. He entered the game hitting .214 with a .260 on-base percentage since the All-Star break.
The Phillies were 6-21 in that span.
“If you’re batting in the first or second spot, your job is to get on base,” Sandberg said before the game. “To do that, it’s about having quality at-bats, and if the guy has speed like Jimmy, for me, it’s about staying on top of the baseball and concentrating on hard ground balls and line drives.
“I think that’s something he can work at and get better at, and I think that will help him for the rest of his career, so that’s something that will be stressed.
“I’ve had conversations with him about it. 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 needs him to do, and for me that’s staying on top of the ball and utilizing his speed.”
Sandberg said Rollins’ goal should not be 15 to 20 home runs.
It should be scoring 100 runs.
“That’s the proper goal for him,” Sandberg said.
Rollins has reached 100 runs six times in his career, but he entered Monday night with just 44 in 122 games. That’s not all his doing. The Phillies are a poor offensive team and anyone’s runs total will suffer for that. But Rollins does need to get on base more. He admitted that.
“I can only control so much of that, but I can put myself in position more often to be a 100-run guy by getting on base,” he said. “But those are things that have been in demand of me since 2001. Nothing that he’s asked me to do is anything new. The voice is new, but not the message.”
Sandberg admitted that it takes special player to embrace change, but added, “I think it also takes maybe just a change or a relationship or communication of what’s expected.”
In addition to striving to hit the ball on a line or on the ground more, Sandberg would like to see Rollins go to the opposite field more.
That might be tough, Rollins said.
“I understand where he’s coming from, but that’s not going to happen,” Rollins said. “My best years, I’ve never hit the ball the other way. If the ball gets deep it will go the other way, but I’m not going to sit there -- a lot of times that’s where I do get in trouble, letting the ball get deep on me.”
Rollins said he wasn’t trying to be stubborn saying that. He said he simply knows his swing.
But the 34-year-old shortstop realizes he needs to reach base more, and Sandberg said he has found Rollins to be a willing student.
“Make the pitchers come to you, work your walks, battle your at-bats, try to get on base,” Sandberg said. “Jimmy has enough pop to hit the ball in the gaps and get his doubles. So for me it’s about keeping a line drive stroke and improving his on-base percentage. That’s what the team needs.
“It will be a challenge,” Sandberg added. “Is it going to happen overnight? I don’t think so. But we have 39 games left. I told these guys, ‘These games are for you. Show what you can do.’ If there are any adjustments that need to be made, now is a good time to try something. So we’ll see. But I think it will be for the betterment of himself and the team as we go forward if Jimmy can do these things.”