Phillies

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies upgraded their bullpen this winter with the signings of Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

They bettered their offense with the signing of Carlos Santana, the injection of J.P. Crawford’s on-base percentage. And a full season of Rhys Hoskins won’t hurt.

The glaring area of need for this team remains the starting pitching rotation.

The team added to its inventory of starters when it signed veteran right-hander Drew Hutchison to a minor-league contract on Thursday. The former Toronto Blue Jay will join a long list of candidates to win a spot at the back end of the rotation.

“It’s a good depth move for us but it doesn't end our search for additional starting pitching,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

Klentak had been looking to add starting pitching all winter. There is enough of it available as Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and others remain on the slow-moving free-agent market.

Arrieta is a former National League Cy Young award winner, but the time does not seem right for this rebuilding team to make a run at him. The right-hander will pitch at 32 this season and is said to be seeking a deal of six years or more. Length of contract is a serious consideration for this team. When Santana hit the free-agent market in November, he was said to be seeking a six- or seven-year deal. The Phils had no stomach for that. When he came down to three years, they pounced.

If the (length of) contract demands of the remaining free agents come down, the Phillies could add another pitcher in the coming weeks. If they don’t, Klentak is comfortable with the group that has been assembled.

“We’re open to adding a starter if it makes sense for us, but even if we don’t, we are confident that this starting pitching group is going to take a step forward because they are really talented and they’re healthy,” Klentak said. “We’re watching them here and they look great.

“The starting pitching market being as slow to develop as it has been has allowed us to get to Clearwater and watch our guys and evaluate them and see the look in their eye and see the electricity in their pitches and regain that confidence in our young starting pitching.”

Aaron Nola lines up to start on opening day. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez will be in the rotation. Nick Pivetta seems to have a good shot after making 25 starts last season. Ben Lively made a good showing last year. He’s a tough competitor and will make a strong run at winning a spot, but so will Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Mark Leiter, Tom Eshelman and Hutchison.

As much as new manager Gabe Kapler would love a top starter dropped in his lap, he, like his bosses, remains committed to the development process that has gone hand in hand with this rebuild.

“You’re always looking to upgrade,” he said. “But there has to be a balance. If you bring in someone, a young arm might not get an opportunity.”

Not long ago, the Phillies had some of the top payrolls in the game. From 2012 to 2014, they spent over a half-billion on payroll (only the Yankees and Dodgers spent more in the time) and did not make the playoffs in any of those seasons. That led to the current rebuild, which has been marked by disciplined roster construction.

“We’re open to anything,” Klentak said. “But the dollars and the years and the player fit would have to be right. We’re not going to compromise on our evaluation and where we see the franchise right now. We’re not going to do something that doesn’t make sense for this organization."

That will continue.

“We’ve gone through this rebuild and acknowledged that it was going to be painful for a few years," Klentak said. "It has been. We’re not going to do anything to compromise the future of that. We’re going to continue to do this right. If there’s something that makes sense, I know the owners will support it economically. It’s up to us to bring that to them if we see fit. And if we don’t, we’re excited about the group we have here. We have ways we think we’re going to help this group continue to improve. Either way, it’s going to be a fun year.”

Still in awe of this crazy Jimmy Rollins accomplishment over a decade later

Still in awe of this crazy Jimmy Rollins accomplishment over a decade later

Our classic Phillies game re-airs continue tonight with the final regular-season game of the 2007 season, a 6-1 Phillies win over the Nationals that wrestled the NL East crown away from the Mets, who had famously held a 7-game lead in the division with 17 to play.

The Phillies were abruptly swept in the NLDS by the Rockies but prior to that, they were on fire. From Sept. 13 through the end of the regular season, the Phils went 13-4 and the Mets went 5-12.

Jimmy Rollins, who began that season by calling the Phillies "the team to beat" in the NL East despite their 14-year playoff drought, finished it by winning NL MVP. Rollins had a storybook season with his bat, with his glove, with his legs and with his mouth.

One of the most unique accomplishments in Phillies history was achieved by Rollins late in that 6-1 win we're re-airing Wednesday night. Jimmy always had a flair for the dramatic, as these memorable moments illustrate.

Sitting on 777 plate appearances for the season, Rollins stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Phillies were winning, there might be no bottom of the ninth and you figured it was likely going to be his final trip to the dish. Rollins needed one more triple to become only the fourth player in baseball history with at least 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season.

As Rollins reached the batter's box for that 778th plate appearance — still a big-league record — the only thing on the minds of Phillies fans watching was the hope that Jimmy would finish the job and hit that triple.

If you watch baseball, you understand that a player can't go to the plate trying to hit a triple. Triples are about solid contact, fortunate placement, speed and aggressiveness. Last season, for example, players hit a triple in just one of every 250 plate appearances. There were about 11 times more doubles and nine times as many home runs.

Ridiculously, impossibly, Rollins hit that 20th triple in his last plate appearance of the season.

In the history of baseball, the only players to achieve this feat were Rollins and Curtis Granderson in 2007, Willie Mays in 1957 and Frank Schulte in 1911. It's so random that it happened twice in the same season after occurring just once in the previous 94 years and not at all since.

The Phillies, who won the division by one game in '07, needed absolutely everything Rollins gave them that season. None of these were empty-calorie stats. 

Many Phils fans will remember the fateful four-game home series against the Mets Aug. 27-30 that summer, a four-game sweep for the Phillies that made a division crown actually feel realistic. Beginning with that series, Rollins hit .335 over his final 34 games with 6 doubles, 5 triples, 8 homers, 22 RBI, 31 runs scored and 16 stolen bases in 17 attempts. The Phillies went 23-11.

"The triple — I was stuck on 19 for a while," Rollins said years ago. "Milt Thompson (the hitting coach) was saying, 'You'll get it on your last at-bat, a little drama.' I was like, 'Of all guys, (Luis) Ayala,' because I never hit him. 

"The count was 3-and-2 and I said to myself, 'Don't be dumb. He's going to throw a slider, sit on it.' He threw it. I knew Austin Kearns was in right field and he could throw but I went for it. I remember going hard into [Ryan] Zimmerman. If I didn't go for it, I would have been upset. The crowd was just incredible that day."

Rollins was just incredible that season. He narrowly beat out Matt Holliday for NL MVP in one of the closest votes ever. Rollins received 79% of voting points to Holliday's 75%. Holliday had better offensive numbers (he hit .376 at Coors Field that year) but Rollins had the better story and the better all-around season.

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A look back at Jimmy Rollins' most memorable hits

A look back at Jimmy Rollins' most memorable hits

Editor's Note: This story initially ran on June 14, 2014 when Jimmy Rollins passed Mike Schmidt to become the Phillies' new all-time hits leader. Tonight at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia, we re-air the final game of the 2007 regular season when Rollins achieved one of the milestones below.

It started on Sept. 17, 2000 in a ballpark that was long ago reduced to a parking lot.

It ended on June 14, 2014.

Jimmy Rollins is the Phillies’ new all-time hits leader. His long pursuit of the record ended when he stroked a single off Edwin Jackson in the fifth inning of the Phillies' game against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday. The hit gave Rollins 2,235 for his career, one more than Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who walked onto the field to raise the new record-holder’s arm as the crowd stood and cheered.

It took more than 2,000 games and 8,300 at-bats for Rollins to set the new record, and he had some very memorable hits along the way. Several of them came in the postseason and don’t count toward his new team record.

This is a remarkable feat for the player that some scouts thought was too small to make it to majors. With a little help from the new record-holder himself, we take a look back at some of the top hits of Rollins’ career.

The first hit
Sept. 17, 2000
Veterans Stadium

The situation: Four years after being drafted in the second round out of Encinal High School in Alameda, Calif., 21-year-old Jimmy Rollins made his big-league debut at shortstop for manager Terry Francona at Veterans Stadium. He batted second that day behind Reggie Taylor in a 6-5 win over the Marlins. Rollins walked his first time up then tripled down the rightfield line against Marlins right-hander Chuck Smith in the third inning for his first big-league hit. “Watch him fly,” Harry Kalas said on the TV broadcast as Rollins motored around second base.

Rollins remembers: “What’s funny is I should have been struck out on a two-strike curveball, but the umpire called it a ball. I don’t remember the umpire’s name (it was Matt Hollowell), but he was a guy we’d had a lot in the minors on the way up. He should have rung me up. I looked back and he kind of looked at me like, ‘I gave you that one.’ I remember I hit a curveball. I’d never seen a curveball like that. I was thinking triple out of the box. I wasn’t stopping.”

***

No. 1,000
July 15, 2006
AT&T Park, San Francisco


The situation: Rollins became the youngest player to reach 1,000 hits as a Phillie when he drove a triple to the deep gap in right-center in the seventh inning of a 14-6 win over the Giants. The pitcher was a clean-shaven Brian Wilson.

Rollins remembers: “Brian Wilson -- before the beard. I wasn’t swinging the bat well. I just went up there and tried to swing hard. It went to right-center. It was the farthest ball you could hit in the league without going out. I remember going home after the game and my mom bought a cake to celebrate.”

***

No. 2,000
September 4, 2012
Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati

The situation: Rollins had collected seven hits in the previous four games, putting him one away from 2,000. His wife and young daughter made the trip to Cincinnati. In the fifth inning, he got the hit, a double off Mat Latos in a 2-1 loss.

Rollins remembers: “Chopper over [first baseman Joey] Votto’s head. It was my daughter’s first trip to a road game. I had to get it done because the next day was an early day game and she needed her rest.”

***

A bomb
May 18, 2001
Veterans Stadium

The situation: Rollins hit his first big-league homer May 2, 2001 against Brian Bohanon and his second two days later against Livan Hernandez. Two weeks later, he hit his third career homer off Cardinals lefty Steve Kline and it still stands out for a few reasons. Rollins, batting from the right side, crushed a 2-0 pitch into the suite level at the Vet in the bottom of the eighth. He knew he got it all and flipped the bat as he started his home run trot. That did not sit well with the veteran Kline, who glared at Rollins as he rounded first and second and shouted unprintable words at the youngster as he rounded third and went to home.

Rollins remembers: “It was a bomb. I had a lot of energy that day. A couple of the veteran players on that team were apparently upset with my energy. The hitting coach (Richie Hebner) told me some of the veterans wanted me to channel my energy. All right, I’ll channel it. I was so ticked off, I hit it into the second deck. Even during batting practice I was hitting them in the second deck. I was upset but it was nothing to do with the pitcher. It all culminated into the release on that ball. I could hear some noise as I rounded third base, but I wasn’t sure what [Kline] was saying. I was in my own little world. I blacked out.”

***

A slam
October 3, 2004
Veterans Stadium

The situation: Finishing up his fourth full season, Rollins smacked a grand slam off the Marlins’ Matt Perisho in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Phillies posted a 10-4 win on the final day of the season. Two days earlier, manager Larry Bowa had been fired after four seasons on the job.

Rollins remembers: “I got here when Tito (Francona) was the manager, but he really wasn’t my manager. Larry was really my first manager. He had always been in the dugout. When you came back to the dugout after getting a hit or something, he was the first one to greet you. If you hit a home run, he’d be smiling and joking. Now, all of sudden, he wasn’t there and that’s when I really realized it.”

***

The streak
September 27, 2005
Citizens Bank Park

The situation: Rollins had equaled Ed Delahanty’s century-old record by extending his hitting streak to 31 games the night before. His bid to set a new club record was in jeopardy (he went 0 for 3 in his first three at-bats) until he led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a base hit up the middle against Mets right-hander Juan Padilla. The hit gave Rollins a 32-game hitting streak, and he kept it going through the end of the season, hitting in 36 straight games in a remarkable month that saw him collect 49 hits and bat .402. Rollins pumped his fist as he ran to first on the record-setting hit, but was stranded on base and the Phillies, making a bid for the NL wild card, lost, 3-2.

Rollins remembers: “I hadn’t been thinking about the streak because we were in the race. All I was thinking was that I finally got on base and had a chance to score a run.”

***

The clincher
September 30, 2007
Citizens Bank Park

The situation: The Phillies went into the final day of the season needing a win over Washington to clinch their first NL East title in 14 years. Rollins had two hits that day, a tone-setting leadoff single against Jason Bergmann in the first inning and a triple to right field against Luis Ayala in the sixth inning. It was Rollins’ 20th triple of the season, a modern-era club record. Most importantly, the Phils won, 6-1, to win the division by a game over the Mets. The victory ignited a party at Citizens Bank Park and was the spark for a great run of five division titles and a World Series victory a year later.

Rollins remembers: “Bottom of the first, 2-2 single up the middle, stole second and third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Chase. I knew New York was losing. I was like, ‘Here we go. I really think that hit propelled us that day.

“The triple -- I was stuck on 19 for a while. Milt Thompson (the hitting coach) was saying, ‘You’ll get it on your last at-bat, a little drama.’ I was like, ‘Of all guys, Ayala,’ because I never hit him. The count was 3-and-2 and I said to myself, ‘Don’t be dumb. He’s going to throw a slider, sit on it.’ He threw it. I knew Austin Kearns was in right field and he could throw but I went for it. I remember going hard into [Ryan] Zimmerman. If I didn’t go for it, I would have been upset. The crowd was just incredible that day.”

***

On their way
October 5, 2008 -- NLDS Game 4
Miller Park, Milwaukee

The situation: The Phillies were an easy out in the 2007 postseason. They came back with a vengeance in 2008 and beat the Milwaukee Brewers three games to one in the NLDS. The Phils won the first two games at home and were beaten in Game 3 in front of a raucous crowd in Milwaukee. The next day they took the series with a 6-2 victory. Rollins quieted the big crowd when he led off that game with a home run against Jeff Suppan on a full-count pitch. The Phils never trailed and took a boatload of momentum in the NLCS and beyond.

Rollins remembers: “That series got our postseason going in '08. We lost the night before and the stadium was so loud with the roof closed and those boom-boom sticks. We didn’t want Game 5. We didn’t want to face CC Sabathia. Being down 1-0 in the first inning wasn’t in their plans.”

***

Jimmy!
October 19, 2009 -- NLCS Game 4
Citizens Bank Park

The situation: Seems like just yesterday. Bottom of the ninth inning, Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS. The Phillies were one out from losing and having the Dodgers tie the series at two games apiece. The crowd of 46,157 was in full roar when Rollins came to the plate with two men on base and his team down a run. He hit a 1-1 fastball from Jonathan Broxton into the gap in right-center for a two-run double. The dramatic win gave the Phillies a three-games-to-one lead in the series. Two days later, they punched their ticket back to the World Series.

Rollins remembers: “I can still see it. My mindset was to try to hit a single. Tie the game. I was just trying to catch the ball with my bat, almost like playing ping-pong, because he threw so hard. I look back at the video now and I’m like, ‘Damn, you swung hard.’ But in my mind I was playing ping-pong, just trying to tie it.

“When I came around third I saw Ryan [Howard] coming at me like a linebacker. I was like, ‘Please don’t hit me.’ My intent was to jog to home plate and celebrate there, but they got me.”

***

Milestone homer
March 31, 2014
Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, Texas

The situation: Rollins entered the new season with 199 homers. Always one with a flair for the dramatic, he belted a grand slam off Rangers right-hander Tanner Scheppers on opening day to key the Phillies' 14-10 win. The home run was Rollins' first hit of the new season and it came on the day he set the National League record with his 14th straight opening day start at shortstop.

Rollins remembers: “I was in the dugout right before that and I was like, ‘It would be cool to have your first hit be a grand slam on opening day.’ I remember growing up going to Oakland A’s games and looking at the size of Mark McGwire, and I was like, ‘I’m not going to hit too many home runs.’ I guess I proved myself wrong.”