J-Roll Is No. 1
Believe me, in almost every case, your questions have been asked numerous times.
One question I’ve been getting asked more and more recently is why Manuel continues to hit Jimmy Rollins leadoff. After all, entering last night’s 10-6 victory over the Mets at Citi Field, Rollins ranked 148th out of 170 qualifying players in baseball with a .286 on-base percentage and 163rd with a .572 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
That made Rollins one of the least productive offensive players in baseball through the first two months of the season.
Now, my typical answer when I’ve been asked about Rollins is this: If you know Charlie, you know he likes to give his veteran players a long leash. He waited until the final week of the season last year to move Chase Utley out of the No. 3 spot, something that should have happened weeks earlier. He kept Rollins in the leadoff spot in 2009, despite the fact he was hitting .205 with a .569 OPS on July 1. Charlie is going to give Rollins every chance to succeed in the spot he is most comfortable hitting in the lineup. And in Charlie’s mind, two months is not enough time to decide to drop his leadoff hitter for the past seven-plus seasons.
Asked yesterday in the visitor’s dugout at Citi Field about Rollins’ offensive struggles, Manuel said, “It’s kind of been the way things have been going for him. He usually hits a ball a night hard — some nights he gets a couple hits, some nights when he hits that ball hard, he doesn’t get any.”
That was hardly praise for the way Rollins had been swinging the bat: He usually hits a ball a night hard.
So then I followed with why he thinks Rollins should still be his leadoff hitter? Manuel got a little agitated, which is not unexpected. He isn’t always a fan of lineup questions. (He especially isn’t a fan of lineup questions when the question starts like this: “Have you ever thought about … ” The reporter doesn’t necessarily mean it that way, but Manuel doesn’t like the implication. Have I ever thought about moving up Carlos Ruiz in the lineup? Gee, no, I’ve NEVER thought of that. Thank you SO MUCH for the suggestion! The thought LITERALLY had never occurred to me!)
But Manuel answered the question, “He’s been there ever since I’ve been here, and at the same time, I’d like to know who else I could put up there? You always ask me the same questions. He’s been our leadoff hitter. There’s guys I can put there, but I like him better than anybody I’ve got, I guess.”
So, naturally, Rollins went 3-for-5 with a three-run home run. (He now ranks 138th out of 166 players with a .294 on-base and 154th with a .602 OPS.) After the game, reporters filed into Manuel’s office and Manuel good-naturedly (I think) busted on me about my question earlier about Rollins.
“That’s why you’re a writer,” he said.
“Hey, that hurts,” I replied.
“It was meant to,” he said.
I laughed. Maybe in a couple months we’ll look back to May 29 as the night Rollins finally got on track. But right now it’s one good night. If Chase Utley and Ryan Howard ever come back and Rollins is still struggling late in the season, I think then you might see a change in the top spot. But right now Rollins is Manuel’s guy, no matter how many times he is asked about it. And he’s been asked about it a lot.
Jim Salisbury and I co-authored the book The Rotation, which is now available. Check it out here! Here are our upcoming book signings:
- SATURDAY: Citizens Bank Park, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.
- June 16: Barnes & Noble, Wilmington, Del, 2 p.m.