Red-hot Rollins leading the Phillies' offense

BY foxsports • July 21, 2011

Hip-hop music blares from the sound system inside Jimmy Rollins' locker after every game the Philadelphia Phillies' win.

Whether he was 0 for 4 or had four hits, Rollins celebrates each victory the same way with his teammates. The former NL MVP is the heart and soul of the Phillies, and he supplies much of the swagger in a low-key clubhouse.

Lately, Rollins has done most of the hitting, too.

''He's staying on the ball and he's a bit more patient,'' manager Charlie Manuel said. ''His bat is quick.''

Since July 2, Rollins is batting .406 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 14 games. He's raised his average 26 points in that span.

''That comes with being selective and getting good balls to hit,'' Manuel said. ''That shows he's really bearing down, he's focused more and he's having fun playing.''

Rollins is an integral part of Philadelphia's offense. As the leadoff hitter, it's his job to get things going. It's no coincidence when he's hot, the team scores more runs. The NL East leaders have averaged 5.7 runs per game this month and are 10-5.

''We just have to find ways to keep winning games, to keep getting big hits,'' Rollins said. ''Like Charlie says, it's now how many you get, it's when you get them. Of course, you've got to get hits to get on most of the time, but you want to get hits when guys are on base and we've been able to do that.''

Overall, Rollins is batting .277 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs this season. The switch-hitting shortstop has 60 runs, 19 steals, a .344 on-base percentage and is on pace to set a career-high in walks. It's his best, all-around season since 2007 when he was MVP after putting up these incredible numbers: .296 average, 30 homers, 94 RBIs, 20 triples, 41 steals.

Rollins didn't come close to matching that production the next three years. In 2008, Rollins hit .277 with 11 homers and 59 RBIs. In `09, he hit .250 with 21 homers and 77 RBIs, but had a career-worst .296 on-base percentage. Last year, Rollins played in a career-low 88 games because of leg injuries and had a career-worst .243 average.

Entering the final year of a $46.5-million, six-year contract, there were questions whether Rollins is on the decline at age 32. He started slow this season while filling in for the injured Chase Utley as the No. 3 hitter.

Rollins hit .271 with only one homer and five RBIs in 27 games batting third in the lineup. He's hitting .277 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs in 64 games leading off.

''If you're swinging better, you're likely going to get more hits,'' Rollins said. ''If you're not swinging well, the one time you do hit a line drive, they catch it. You've got to keep putting them out there and hope for something to fall. I've been able to do that.''

Rollins was drafted in the second round of the 1996 amateur draft by the Phillies and has played here his entire career. But he'll become a free agent for the first time after this season, and there's no guarantee he'll be back.

It's hard to envision the Phillies without Rollins, especially since they expect to be contenders for a few more years because of their elite pitching staff. Rollins isn't motivated by getting a new contract, even though he's been underpaid compared to some of his teammates.

''I play baseball the same way every day,'' he said. ''You are who you are.''

Heading into a 10-game homestand, the Phillies have the best record in the majors at 61-36 and were 4 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta in their pursuit of a fifth-straight division title. Anything less than a World Series championship won't be considered a success in Philadelphia.

Rollins can help make that happen now and in the future.

''He sees the type of team we have here with the pitching and he very much wants to be a part of it,'' Manuel said. ''He wants to see us win, too.''