Sandberg wants Rollins on base more often

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Sandberg wants Rollins on base more often

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.”

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies' roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies' roster

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.