Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rollins getting comfortable batting second

Jimmy Rollins has had plenty of experience hitting second but has spent the majority of his career as a lead-off man.

Rollins getting comfortable batting second

Jimmy Rollins. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Jimmy Rollins. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Jimmy Rollins has had plenty of experience hitting second but has spent the majority of his career as a lead-off man.

This year he has batted second in each of the nine games he has played and certainly looks comfortable in the role. After Rollins hit a walk-off solo home run during Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Miami Marlins in 10 innings, manager Ryne Sandberg talked of Rollins attributes as a No. 2 hole hitter.

“Being a heads-up player as he is, in the two hole there are sometimes  situational at-bats that come up and sometimes there is some thought to it and I like him a lot in the two hole spot,” Sandberg said.

Rollins said there is a big difference in batting lead-off and hitting second.

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“It is an adjustment,” Rollins said after hitting his walk-off homer. “Usually I am the guy on base stealing bases and the hitter seem me in the corner of their eye and take a pitch.”

Now it’s Rollins who is taking the occasional pitch.

“I have to tell myself that once I have a strike it doesn’t’ matter if the runner is going or not, I have to just concentrate on seeing the ball,” Rollins said. “Early on I was peaking at him and seeing if he would go.”

What Rollins likes about hitting second is if the lead-off man gets on and steals a base, then he is in scoring position.

Jimmy is playing well doing a great job. He is swinging the bat and setting the tone at the top of the order.

“When a man is on second base it puts me in a position that I like” Rollins said.

In his nine games this season Rollins is hitting .316 with a .948 OPS. To put that in context, Rollins highest single season average is .296 and his best OPS was .875. Both came in his MVP season of 2007.

Now comparing nine games to a season is crazy, but what it does say is that Rollins is producing quite well from the No. 2 hole.

And when he and Chase Utley are both on hitting well together, this is a formadible top of the order.

Utley, batting third, is hitting .472 with an outlandish 1.314 OPS. Again, he won’t maintain these figures but the in first two wins over the Marlins in this series, Rollins and Utley are a combined 9 for 16 with six runs and five RBIs.

And this came against two bright young pitchers. Jose Fernandez, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, allowed a career-high six earned runs against the Phillies in Friday’s 6-3 game.

And Nathan Eovaldi, a hard-throwing 24-year-old righthander, allowed four earned runs in 6 1.3 innings.

So look for Rollins to stay in the two hole. Sandberg likes Ben Revere leading off and even with Revere not starting the last two nights while nursing a sore rib, Tony Gwynn Jr. has been scored three runs as the leadoff man in both games.

Sandberg maintains that a player doesn’t have to bat lead-off to be an offensive catalyst.

“Jimmy is a catalyst no question,” Sandberg said.

Rollins has 6,770 career plate appearances as a lead-off man and 1,184 as two-hole hitter.

His career statistics are better batting lead-off Before Saturday he had a career .775 OPS while batting lead-off and .697 in the two hole.

What is interesting is that in his MVP season of 2007, Rollins never hit second. He batted lead-off 139 games and third 23.

Last year he was a lead-off man 63 games and had a .647 OPS. Rollins batted second in 51 games with a .688 OPS.

No doubt the constant reps at No. 2 were a big help.

Now this year could be Rollins longest sustained period batting second. So far in the early season Rollins has shown that he is embracing his new role.

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The place for up-to-the-minute Phillies coverage from The Inquirer beat writer Matt Gelb and columnist Bob Brookover.

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