Sandberg downplays Rollins' absence from lineup
Manager, shortstop meet to discuss veteran's 'Who cares?' comment
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The only things Jimmy Rollins knew Thursday morning at Bright House Field were that he had not played since Monday, and that Ryne Sandberg seemed upset with him about something.
Rollins had no clue why, because he said Sandberg had not talked to him in a couple days. But he figured Sandberg was sending him a message, benching him three consecutive Grapefruit League games and offering a pointed "no comment" in Sarasota on Wednesday when asked about Rollins' influence on the team.
"Oh, it is unusual," said Rollins, who will be in the starting lineup Friday against the Pirates in Bradenton. "Yes, but I'm not going to try to second guess or predict or come up with a reason why."
Sandberg downplayed the whole thing following Thursday's 6-2 victory over the Yankees, saying he wasn't disciplining his veteran shortstop. He said he did not play Rollins three consecutive games simply because he wanted to give Freddy Galvis an extended look and felt the 35-year-old veteran needed a break, despite missing time last week because of the flu and having just 15 Grapefruit League at-bats, significantly fewer than other projected Opening Day starters like Ben Revere (31), Ryan Howard (30), Domonic Brown (30), Marlon Byrd (29), Chase Utley (25) and Cody Asche (24).
Sandberg offered no such explanation when asked Wednesday why Rollins hadn't been playing. He simply said Rollins is fine.
But Sandberg did have an issue with Rollins, which he discussed with him Thursday in a lengthy meeting. The Phillies entered Thursday hitting just .198, which was the lowest mark in baseball. Asked about the team-wide offensive struggles Monday, Rollins told the Philadelphia Daily News, "Who cares?"
Rollins actually said more than that, explaining that Spring Training statistics are no great predictor of the regular season. But those are the two words that caught the attention of many at Bright House Field.
Sandberg said he could not remember when or how he first heard that comment, but if Sandberg did not find it himself, it certainly was brought to his attention.
"I wanted him to clarify that, because I wanted to make sure that he cared," Sandberg said. "And I wanted to make sure -- I know that everyone else in the locker room cared. So when he told me about what he was talking about, it made sense. … He was referencing himself and where he's at right now, as far as his offensive stroke and what he's doing on the field. So he was speaking for himself that he wasn't that concerned with it being that early in the spring.
"Jimmy cares. I wanted to make sure that he wasn't speaking for the ballclub with 'Who cares?'"
Sandberg said he and Rollins are on the same page, although he said Rollins did not understand why he had reservations about the "Who cares?" comment.
Rollins had been scheduled to play Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista against the Braves, but got a call that morning informing him that he had been scratched. His name had been replaced on the lineup card with Galvis, who has started three consecutive games, including Thursday's game against the Yankees.
Sandberg commended Galvis on Wednesday for "his energy and positive influence. His positive influence on everyone around him."
That is when Sandberg offered a simple "no comment" when asked about Rollins in that regard.
"Well, everyone is allowed to have their own opinion," Rollins said. "It doesn't make it right, but he's the manager, so he gets to have the last say."
Sandberg offered his explanation for the "no comment."
"You know, I would like to have not said that and expand on what Jimmy has to offer and what he means to the ballclub," Sandberg said.
Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel benched Rollins on multiple occasions over nine seasons for not running out ground balls or for showing up late to the ballpark. He pulled Rollins into his office for pointed conversations whenever he felt like something needed to be addressed.
Rollins had not been approached by his new manager until Thursday.
"I'm sure he will," Rollins said prior to the meeting. "He's a former player. He knows what it's like to be on this side."
Rollins said it will take time to learn Sandberg's personality, which he acknowledged is different than Manuel's. But he said they are "good," and they had talked every day other than the previous couple.
He said their relationship can work.
"Yes," Rollins said. "Why wouldn't it work?"
Because it is March 13 and the manager is benching him?
"That's OK," Rollins said. "It's the 13th of March, not April."
Rollins had the worst year of his career last year, when he hit .252 with six home runs, 39 RBIs, 65 runs scored, 22 stolen bases and a career-low .667 OPS. He ranked 12th out of 17 qualifying shortstops in OPS and 131st out of 140 qualifying players in the big leagues. He has hit just .133 (2-for-15) in seven Grapefruit League games.
Rollins needs 434 plate appearances for an $11 million club option for 2015 to automatically vest. Rollins has had 625 or more plate appearances 12 of the past 13 seasons, so if he is healthy, he should reach it without any problem. He said he has no fears the Phillies could try to manipulate that number during the season, having him share time with Galvis at shortstop.
"That hasn't even crossed my mind," he said.
And it shouldn't. Sandberg called Rollins "an important part of the team. He's got his role on the team as a veteran player, and he comes into Spring Training in very good shape every year, and he has again this year. He's got his playing time and at-bats coming up. It's also a long season playing up the middle, so with him and Chase, I'm careful with their days. I know the grind of a season, and Jimmy plays over 150 games a year. It's the time of the spring right now where he'll have some time down the stretch."
Sandberg denied sending any messages. Rollins didn't think he needed one anyway.
"There's no fire that needs to be lit," Rollins said. "Never has been, especially when things count."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.