Rollins' legacy with Phils secure, future uncertain

534426.jpg

Rollins' legacy with Phils secure, future uncertain

WASHINGTON The way Jimmy Rollins sees it, every season is a contract year. Its just that sometimes a guy doesn't have a job lined up for the next season.

And so for the first time in 12 major league seasons, Rollins faces the possibility of facing an off-season as a free agent. According to sources, it's a predicament that wont be ironed out until the end of the season since Rollins representatives and the Phillies will not discuss an extension during the season.

Nevertheless, if there is a legacy that Rollins has built during his career with the Phillies, its one of winning, says the shortstop. In fact, in an exclusive interview with CSNPhilly, Rollins says the Phillies unprecedented run of five straight NL East titles and postseason dashes was spawned from a sentence he spoke before the 2007 season.

When Rollins claimed the Phillies were, The team to beat, it was a precursor to all that the team has achieved, he said.

In short, yeah. Without 2007, without me coming out saying, Were the team to beat, without all of that, the organization operates the way it always has -- thats just willing to be competitive and going out there fielding a team and hoping one day we'll be good, Rollins told CSN. Since that day theres no longer a hope. It was, We have to prove it every single time out here. Then fans showed up. With fans came money. Then players came over. Then better players came over. Then we won the World Series in between all of that. And this is where we are today. And it started with that little mustard seed and that little spark. Without that, I don't think it would be the same.

Interestingly, the Phillies will face the off-season with a few tough choices. After all, not only will Rollins be a free agent, but Ryan Madson and Raul Ibanez are playing out the last months of their contracts while lefty Cole Hamels heads into an arbitration year with free agency looming.

The Phillies have more than 109 million committed to nine players for 2012, which does not include salaries for players like Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Jose Contreras or Hamels.

Still, its tough to imagine the Phillies not coming to some sort of extension for Rollins.

Thats always a tough decision, Rollins said about his looming free agency. But its a decision everybody has to live with. You play to win. After winning, you play to make a living. If you have a chance to become a free agent, thats your decision whether you want to do something now or see whats out there. You can become a free agent and not go anywhere.

Rollins is in the last year of a six-year, 46.5 million deal he signed in June of 2005 when Ed Wade was the general manager of the Phillies. At the time, it was believed that Rollins got the better deal in terms of length of contract, but the Phillies made out in terms of salary. However, during the time since Rollins signed his deal, the Phillies have doled out big contracts to Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hamels, Ryan Howard, Ibanez, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley and even Joe Blanton.

In terms of salary, Rollins, a three-time All-Star and NL MVP in 2007, is the 10th-highest paid player on the team.

As far as shortstops go, Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Rafael Furcal and J.J. Hardy are all better paid than Rollins. Still, if the Phillies are to re-sign Rollins, he could command a deal similar to the three-years, 30 million Furcal got before the 2009 season.

If Rollins, 32, remains with the Phillies beyond the 2011 season, he could go down as one of the most decorated players in franchise history. Already he ranks in the top 5 in runs, plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, stolen bases and games played. In the modern era, only Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn have been on base more times than Rollins.

Better yet, the way manager Charlie Manuel sees it, Rollins isn't close to being finished yet.

I think that his contract -- he wants to show that hes good, Manuel said. I talked to Jimmy and he plans to play another five years or so.

Rollins has enjoyed a slight resurgence this season after struggling through a slump at the plate in 2009 where he batted .250 after struggling through June with a .207 average. In 2010, Rollins was hampered by injuries and appeared in a career-low 88 games and .241 batting average.

Franchise player
Rollins, however, showed up at spring training healthy and fit and aside from a Grade 2 groin strain suffered at the end of August that landed him on the disabled list, Rollins has been one of Manuel's most consistent performers in 2011. No, he's not producing offensive numbers up to his 2007 levels, but he's teamed with Shane Victorino at the top of the lineup to form a formidable power and speed threat. Rollins has 14 homers, 58 RBIs and 28 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot, and also sees 3.81 pitches per plate appearance, which is better than the league average and the third-most on the team.

Hes coming on strong the last couple of months. His offense has picked up, Manuel said. When we get our team at full strength, thats when Jimmy shows up better. Theres more people on base and theres more excitement in the lineup and thats when Jimmy gets up. Jimmy gets motivated by the competition and the people in the lineup. The more excited about the team, the more that gets into Jimmy.

According to the advanced stats on FanGraphs, only Placido Polanco has better plate discipline in terms of making contact than Rollins, and no player regularly swings at fewer pitches. Somewhere Rollins got the reputation as a player no willing to work the count, only the statistics seem to squash this notion.

Rickey Henderson used to swing at first-pitches, too. Jimmy doesnt walk like Rickey, but Jimmy likes to cut when the count is 2-0, 3-1. He likes to get up in the count and look for a good ball to hit, Manuel said. Where he gets into trouble is by chasing the high ball out of the strike zone and swinging long at it and hell be the first guy to tell you that. He can be a little aggressive at times, but thats the big-man syndrome coming out of him.

Jimmy knows about hitting. He knows his swing. When you get right back to it, hes definitely streaky. The year he won MVP and when hes going good, he gets his stroke down and he can hold it for a few months. He gets very consistent with his swing.

More importantly, Rollins is just as dynamic in the field as he's ever been and is an undisputed leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Behind the scenes, many of the veterans take their cues from Rollins as he has settled into his role as the seasoned and wily veteran.

Of the starting shortstops in the major leagues, only Tulowitzki has a better fielding percentage than Rollins with one fewer error. According to the advanced metric UZR, a measure of how well a player performs in the field, Rollins is rated fifth in the National League.

I think Jimmys value is as a package -- as a player, Manuel said.

What happens when guys dont hit is they have to be able to do something to play in the game. They have to field or throw or run and do something other than hit to stay in the game, and thats why its so important to be an everyday player. I think Jimmy carries all the tools. When hes on his game hes a tremendous player, but even if hes struggling with the bat, there are other ways he can beat you.

Still, Rollins says he is playing better this season not only because of improved fitness and health, but instead because of peace of mind. Quite simply, Rollins says he feels good, which keeps him from second-guessing himself.

My confidence is always good, but its a matter of feeling and I feel good. That translates into being more aggressive on the bases, being able to make the plays and feeling better at the plate, Rollins said. When you feel good, you dont think about things -- you just let them happen. You react accordingly to how you feel and when you dont feel good, youre scrambling. Instead of going out there and executing, you think about what could, might possibly go wrong and when youre feeling good you dont think like that. Thats the difference.

Twelve years into his career with the Phillies, Rollins has already solidified his standing as the best shortstop ever to play for the franchise. Meanwhile, a new contract could put him on the short list of the all-time greats in franchise history. There have not been too many players to last as long in Philadelphia as Rollins, with Schmidt leading the way with 18 years of service and if he returns for a 13th season with the Phillies, only Schmidt, Tony Taylor, Robin Roberts, Chris Short, Curt Simmons and Steve Carlton will have served more time as a uniformed player.

The Phillies have 21-year-old Venezuelan Freddy Galvis waiting in the wings at shortstop, but the kid is just wrapping up his first month at Triple A. Galvis likely needs more time to develop.

A second-round draft pick in 1996 from Encinal High in Alameda, Calif., Rollins grew up idolizing Rickey Henderson. However, it would be odd to imagine Rollins playing out his career in the vagabond manner the way Henderson did. Moreover, it would be odd to imagine a future in which the Phillies did not have Rollins playing shortstop.

Will the Phillies will do what they can to avoid such a future?

Well be talking, theres no question about it, Rollins said. Its not like theyre going to just let me walk away scot-free.

E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

Jimmy Rollins joins Marshall Harris for a half hour special to reflect on his career as a Phillie in the season finale of Phillies Clubhouse this Monday at 7 p.m. on CSN.

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

052716-appel-slife.jpg

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Challenging series begins with Jon Lester

joseph-slide.jpg

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Challenging series begins with Jon Lester

Phillies (26-21) at Cubs (31-14)
2:20 p.m. on TCN

After their having their second straight Thursday off, the Phillies open up a challenging three-game weekend series Friday afternoon against the Cubs, owners of the majors' best record.

Let's take a look at what to expect:

1. Best in the bigs
The Cubs are three games better than any team in baseball. Their run differential of plus-119 is 47 better than the next-best team. They've scored the most third-most runs (256) and allowed just 137, which is 12 fewer than any other club.

With Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs probably have the deepest starting rotation in baseball. 

With Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward and Addison Russell, they have the National League's top offense.

With guys like Tommy La Stella, Matt Szczur and David Ross making key contributions, they have one of the best benches in baseball.

There is no real weakness with this team. Even the mostly anonymous bullpen has been among the game's best, posting a 3.09 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 122⅓ innings.

This is, however, the right time to be playing the Cubs. Chicago is 4-6 in its last 10 games and 6-8 in its last 14. The Cubs did appear to get back on track by beating the Cardinals in the final two games of a nine-game road trip that ended Wednesday.

At Wrigley, the Cubs are 14-6. They've lost two home series this season to the Padres and Rockies.

2. Cool Lester Smooth
Props if you get The Wire reference.

The Phillies open the series against left-hander Jon Lester, who is 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA this season but is coming off his worst start. Lester allowed five runs in just 2⅔ innings in last weekend's loss at San Francisco.

Aside from that, he's enjoyed another very good season. The 32-year-old joined the Cubs in free agency prior to last season on a six-year, $155 million deal, and has gone 15-15 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 41 starts with Chicago. He's struck out 259 batters in 260⅓ innings.

The Phillies have faced Lester six times — five when he was with the Red Sox — and they've never beaten him. He's 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA against them and has allowed just 30 hits in 41 innings. He's gone seven innings in five of the six starts.

Lester's repertoire has remained consistent through the years. He throws mostly four-seam fastballs, cutters and curveballs. He'll also mix in sinkers and changeups, but 85 percent of his pitches this season have been four-seamers, cutters and curves.

Lester's cutter is his great equalizer against right-handed hitters, who have hit .240 against him the last four seasons. He can back-door it, starting it outside and having it break back over the outside corner, or start it over the middle and have it break in to jam a righty.

Current Phillies are 10 for 55 (.182) against Lester with two walks and 18 strikeouts. Ryan Howard and Freddy Galvis have each homered off him. Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 11, Cameron Rupp is 0 for 3 and Maikel Franco is 0 for 6. Odubel Herrera has never faced him.

3. Tommy time
Facing a lefty means an automatic start for Tommy Joseph at first base. Joseph went 4 for 11 in the Tigers series with a double and a homer, hitting the ball hard even when he made outs. 

What will be interesting is how Pete Mackanin uses Joseph the rest of the series. The Phillies will face right-handers on Saturday and Sunday in Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey. Only once since Joseph came up from Triple A has he started against a right-hander in place of Howard. Joseph faced two righties in the Tigers series, but Howard was the designated hitter. The only game in which Joseph replaced Howard at first base against a right-hander was last Sunday in the Phils' win over Casey Kelly and the Braves.

Joseph hit .324 with seven extra-base hits against right-handed pitchers at Triple A this season, and is 4 for 18 (.222) with a double and a homer against them with the Phils. Both extra-base hits came Monday off Mike Pelfrey.

Here's the Phillies' lineup Friday:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. Tyler Goeddel, LF
8. Adam Morgan, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

4. Morgan's command must be perfect
It's the same thing every time Adam Morgan takes the mound but it's especially true this afternoon: He needs to throw quality strikes early in counts and command his fastball nearly flawlessly on the inside and outside corners.

Morgan (1-2, 5.61) is coming off a decent start against the Braves in which he allowed two runs over six innings. But the Braves and Cubs are about as different as two offenses can be. 

Morgan held lefties last season to a .225 batting average, but this year they're 8 for 26 (.308) against him with two doubles and a homer. He's not the kind of lefty who makes it uncomfortable for a same-handed hitter, but Rizzo and Heyward are both out of the Cubs' lineup Friday.

Morgan faced the Cubs last season and allowed four runs in five innings in a loss. Fowler, Heyward and Javier Baez all had multi-hit games against him.

5. Model for success?
The Cubs endured several years of losing during their own rebuild and have emerged as one of the most talented teams in recent years. It took a little luck along the way. The Astros drafted Mark Appel first overall and left Kris Bryant at No. 2. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took advantage of a rare win-now move from Billy Beane in trading a half-season of Jeff Samardzija and Hammel for Russell. 

But the Cubs also identified Kyle Schwarber (out for the season, but a very good young hitter) and drafted him higher than most analysts predicted he'd go. They found lights-out closer Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft. They clearly won the 1-for-1 swap of Andrew Cashner for Rizzo. Most importantly, they bought low on a highly-touted Arrieta, who was struggling with the Orioles before emerging into one of the three-best starting pitchers in the majors.

And when the prospects began graduating to the majors, the Cubs did what the Phillies will likely do in a year or two: They spent. 

As much as everyone loves to talk about Chicago's young talent, they also spent $184 million on Heyward, $155 million on Lester, $56 million on Zobrist and $60 million on catcher Miguel Montero. They filled in their roster with veterans who fit the plan, and it's allowed them to continue to ease in guys like Baez and Jorge Soler.

It would take a ton of breaks for the Phillies to be as exciting or as successful a team as the Cubs in a few years, but Chicago has shown that this model can work in a major market.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

052616-tough-lineup-webrefframe_1.jpg

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).