CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Hall of Famer began with a compliment.
"Maybe the best ever," Mike Schmidt said of these Phillies.
For a few minutes, Schmidt considered whether he had seen a better starting rotation in baseball. He concluded he had not. Then he questioned the one unit that could ruin it.
"With the exception of a few guys, I think they underachieved as hitters last year," said Schmidt, who attends spring training annually as a guest instructor.
He called out Jimmy Rollins, saying he needs to be more "Pete Rose-like," and wondered why Shane Victorino was trying to be a power hitter. He said the lineup would dearly miss the presence of Jayson Werth. He called for an improvement in situational hitting and more "small ball."
"They need to get better offensively. There's no doubt about that," Schmidt said. "And I think they all know that."
Schmidt never minces words. It's not a terrible dose of reality for this feel-good camp, where the hype can sometimes overshadow the possible issues.
Manager Charlie Manuel agreed with most of Schmidt's sentiments - with one exception. His team was criticized for not being able to do more situational hitting, but Manuel said that trait is highly dependent on Rollins and Victorino getting on base. Hitting and moving runners over, that's not something the players in his lineup can necessarily do.
"Since I've been here," Manuel said, "our small ball was Rollins, Victorino and [Chase] Utley getting on base and stealing and going first to third and things like that. That set our lineup up. We always could manufacture runs that way."
So Manuel agrees with the notion of Rollins and Victorino needing to be on base more. When the Phillies' offense is at its best, those two are going right.
Begin with Rollins, who has a .304 on-base percentage over the last two seasons combined. Schmidt said Rollins should have 200 hits each season, but because he's thinking about hitting home runs it doesn't happen.
"I just think Pete [Rose] understood more what his role was," Schmidt said. "Jimmy needs to be more Pete Rose-like in his approach to the game and more accountable for getting on base. Offensively, he's about running and getting on base and getting hits and leading the league in hitting. He wants to look at the USA Today every day or The Inquirer and see his name right up there in the top three of hitting. It should be, right? Same with Victorino, and I know they feel that way."
"I think Jimmy's a better hitter than what he did the last couple of years," the manager said.
Rollins took the criticism in stride and said he considered the comparison to Rose a compliment.
Victorino hit a career-high 18 home runs in 2010, but his on-base percentage was .327 - a career worst and 31 points below 2009. The formula is simple: The Phillies may not need a lot of runs to win games in 2011. But if Rollins and Victorino are on base and can create some action on the base paths, it's easier to score.
"You can't maximize that part of your game if you're hitting a lot of fly ball outs, hitting a lot of 1-0 fastballs and flying out, thinking that you're a home-run hitter," Schmidt said. "You have to be a get-on-base guy and face it and that's what is going to make the team go. They need to be accountable for who they are. Victorino is not a power hitter."
Victorino was not available to reply.
But Schmidt praised the mind-set of the players he's talked to during his first two days in camp. He expects big things from the regulars he criticized. And he said he believes in the organization - despite revealing he was disappointed in not being interviewed for the team's managerial opening after the 2004 season.
Instead, for two weeks Schmidt reports to Manuel. And as long as he's allowed to be around, he'll speak his mind.
"I feel blessed I still have a role, though it's a bit of a minor role with the team," Schmidt said. "It's more of a marketing role now. The relationship with the Phillies right now is as strong as it's ever been. That part of my life is really good. I'm a very happy man."
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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