Rollins confident Phillies can rise again in NL East

Rollins confident Phillies can rise again in NL East

February 19, 2013, 4:45 pm

CLEARWATER, Fla. -– In his first comments of the spring Tuesday, Jimmy Rollins complimented the Washington Nationals for being an exciting and talented team, but pointedly stopped short of saying they were the team to beat in the National League East. For the record, Rollins also described the Atlanta Braves as an exciting and talented club.

But Rollins made it clear that he believes his Phillies can return to the top spot in the division after seeing their run of five straight titles come to an end in 2012. The Nats won the division with a major-league best 98 wins. Atlanta was second with 94 wins. The Phils, hit hard by injury, made a second-half run but finished 17 games back at 81-81.

“If we play good baseball, we’ll win the division,” said Rollins, who turned 34 in the offseason.

“The mindset is different this year. We had a great year in 2011 and last year we came in with a quarter of the team, honestly. That’s tough to do. We’re a complete team now. We’re not going out there with role players so to speak. We’re going out there with everyday players.

“We just needed to fill a couple of holes and get other guys healthy. As you can see, I’m nice and calm. Last year, everybody was uncertain. This year, it’s a lot more certain.”

Rollins touched on a number of topics in a wide-ranging interview. He endorsed Cole Hamels for the opening-day start (manager Charlie Manuel has yet to announce who will get the nod), noted that Chase Utley’s legs are stronger, and said he’d be willing to move out of the leadoff hole if that’s what Manuel wanted. Later, Manuel said he was sticking with Rollins as his leadoff man.

Without further ado, here’s our interview with Rollins in Q and A format:

Q: On the final day last season, you said the Nationals would have been a second-place team if you guys were healthy. Do you regret saying that?

A: No. No.

Q: Do you think it sounded disrespectful?

A: It sounded exactly the way I meant it. You’ll always get the honesty from me.

Q: Do you believe that will give them extra motivation?

A: Who cares?

Q: Are they the team to beat in the NL East?

A: They’re an exciting team.

Q: Are they the team to beat?

A: They’re an exciting team.

Q: OK.

A: They’ve got a lot of good, young players. They have an exciting team. So all the talk is deserved. But every team is zero and zero right now. The Braves are an exciting team, too. All the talk is deserved for those teams. But no one talked about the San Antonio Spurs and they find ways to win. We have to be like the San Antonio Spurs. No one is in first place or last place right now.

Q: Was there a void not playing in October for the first time since 2006?

A: No. You live with it. We definitely put a run out there but we ran out, but we knew for a couple of weeks we weren’t going to be there so we kind of came to grips with it. Obviously we were there when the Nationals [clinched]. It was like, ‘Damn. Oh, well.’

Q: Does this club come in with a chip on its shoulder?

A: We really don’t have anything to prove. We know we’re good. If we play good baseball, we’ll win the division. If we play good baseball, we’ll win it all. If you play the best baseball in October, you’ll win it all. That’s why the focus has to be playing good baseball. Solid baseball. Pitching, hitting, running the bases, getting stellar defense. You do that you’ll win.

Q: What do you think of the additions the club made?

A: Michael Young is a professional hitter. He’s been to two World Series. Mike Adams is going to be huge. This is probably the best bullpen we’ve ever had since I’ve been here, honestly. Ben Revere -- the little man out in centerfield, Tootsie Pop, he’s going to bring that energy and steal bags. It’s a great dynamic what we have now.

Q: What do you say to the folks who say the Phillies are an old team whose best days are in the past?

A: Half of it is true. We’re definitely an older team, especially when you look around our division. Are the better days behind us? I mean, it’s going to be sunny in Philadelphia when we get there so it looks like some pretty good days ahead of us.”

Q: Do you expect to lead off?

A: I expect to be in the lineup for 162 games.

Q: Does it matter where you hit?

A: Not really. In the past, yeah, but I can’t say as much anymore.

Q: Why? You used to be adamant that you were a leadoff man.

A: I am. That will never change. But as far as caring where I hit, that part not really as much any more. There are more important things like winning and when you don’t do it for one year ... whatever it takes.

Q: So if Charlie said you were going to hit fifth and Revere would lead off, you’d be cool with it?

A: I wouldn’t have a choice. We’ve talked about it because there will be days when Charlie changes the lineup, but not too many days. The big thing is you don’t want to bounce around the lineup because you get used to one spot.

Q: Do you think you’ll have a healthy double-play mate in Chase Utley all season?

A: Yeah. Yeah. He’s healthy as far as I see. He’s throwing the ball ... It’s funny, first couple of days he’s throwing the ball, and usually his ball kind of dies at the end and I’m expecting to go down and get it, and it’s hitting me in the chest. And I was like, ‘Man.’ He didn’t realize how much he had lost without having his legs and now that he has them ... Just the simple things where you notice the power, he’s there.

Q: Ryan Howard is also healthy. How big is that?

A: His Achilles tendon is only like two years old now, so I think he’ll be nice and fresh. Having him is huge. It’s like a bridge that gets you from the top half of lineup to the second half of the lineup. We have a deep lineup.

Q: Who would be your opening-day starter?

A: Cole.

Q: Why?

A: Because he’s good.

Q: It’s his time?

A: I think so. But Doc [Halladay] or Cliff [Lee] could also do it. I think they will have big seasons.

More Team Talk