04/21/08 12:26 AM ET
Losing Rollins big blow to Phillies
Club will need others to step up and fill void left by NL MVP
The Phillies had hoped on almost a daily basis since Rollins sprained an ankle on April 8 that their shortstop and offensive catalyst would return to the lineup. Rollins was out of the starting lineup for 10 games since then, but he did make four pinch-hit appearances. And that, apparently, was part of the problem.
Rollins felt that he was making progress from the injury, that his lateral movement had improved, but he aggravated the sprain pinch-hitting against the Mets on Saturday.
"I had a chance to pinch-hit, then I take the first swing and I'm a one-legged hitter after that," Rollins said on Sunday.
Rollins had been optimistic about his recovery, but by Sunday that optimism had given way to realism and resignation.
"My game is speed and I don't have much of that now," Rollins said.
In a situation such as this, there is a natural inclination to try to find somebody, anybody to blame. But this is not a situation that lends itself to identifying an all-purpose villain.
With Rollins, for instance, expressing optimism about his recovery and assuring manager Charlie Manuel that he was fine to pinch-hit, Manuel didn't do anything out of the ordinary by sending Rollins to the plate. When Manuel was asked on Sunday if he "regretted" pinch-hitting Rollins, the manager bristled a bit.
"I never 'regret' nothing I do," Manuel said. "How can I go back? What I did is what I did. I want Jimmy Rollins to play. If he's hurt, I want to get him well. Do I regret something? What does that mean? Hey, I was trying to win a ballgame, that's all.
"If Jimmy being hurt is my fault then, believe me, put it on Big Chuck, he'll take the blame," Manuel added with a small smile. "Believe me, I'm big enough to take it. I can handle it. If him getting hurt is my fault, I'll be glad to take the blame. That's fine. Blame me, whatever you want to do, no problem."
Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said that Manuel clearly was not at fault.
"[Rollins] was not going to go up there and pinch-hit had he not felt good enough to pinch-hit," Amaro said. "Charlie can only go on what the player tells him. If the player tells him he was able to pinch-hit, that's what I would do."
The notion that the Phillies should have put Rollins on the DL very soon after the injury occurred is easily arrived at, in hindsight.
"In retrospect, of course it was a mistake," Amaro said, but he added that all the initial medical information on the injury indicated that the recovery time would not be that significant.
"Make no mistake, the guy was progressing, it just got to the point where he was not going to get over the hump," Amaro said.
The Phillies don't have a history of dealing with injuries with Rollins because he has no injury history with this club. Not only is this his first trip to the disabled list in his eight seasons in the Majors, but he has averaged 157 games played over the last seven years.
With that history, and with Rollins believing that the ankle was improving, hoping for the best may have seemed like a reasonable approach. But now the Phillies will be without Rollins for another two weeks, at a minimum.
There is no overstating his importance to this club, not only for the tangible qualities that made him the National League Most Valuable Player last season, but for the intangible qualities that his leadership and his presence give to this club.
"It's going to hurt us, but at the same time, we've still got to play," Manuel said.
Amaro found a more optimistic frame of reference for Rollins' injury, noting: "We lost the MVP for a couple of weeks last year, and we ended up winning the division, as I recall," Amaro said in a reference to 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard.
Life hasn't been easy for the Phillies this April and it just became even more difficult. The starting pitching has actually been better than expected, but the offense has not met expectations. Plus it appears that the Phillies' ability to beat the Mets in something like every game that matters, no longer exists, or at least has taken a spring break.
Now, the Phillies lose the 2007 NL MVP. The only possible bright side of this lies in the potential clarity: With Rollins' ankle sprain, the time of wishing and hoping is over, and the time of healing has officially begun.
Life looked a little better for the Phillies on Sunday night, after they salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a heartening 5-4 victory over the Mets. If the idea was that somebody had to "step up," to compensate for Rollins' absence, two players took giant strides in that direction.
Second baseman Chase Utley continued to crush the ball, hitting two home runs, giving him five over the last four games. And Eric Bruntlett, Rollins' replacement at short, made a game-saving and game-ending play, diving to his left to field a shot by Carlos Beltran with two on in the ninth.
"I'm not going to fill Jimmy's shoes," Bruntlett said. "No one is. I'm just going to go out there and do what I can do."
That's the only attitude to take when a player of Rollins' stature is out of the lineup. Neither his skills nor his contributions can be duplicated. The Phillies must have two hopes: that the performances of other players can compensate for his absence, and that Rollins returns to full heath as quickly and as completely as possible.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.