Leslie Gudel talks baseball on 610-WIP – Part 1
Leslie Gudel talks baseball on 610-WIP – Part 2
CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Man has arrived.
Reigning National League MVP Jimmy Rollins rolled into Spring Training on Tuesday not a minute too early. Rollins doesn’t typically show up until the last possible moment and this year was no exception. In fact, Rollins was the only player that didn’t show his face until Tuesday.
Rollins made the rounds around the clubhouse, shaking hands with teammates and sharing some laughs. Rollins is always laughing at something, or making someone else laugh.
His presence made me realize the many unique personalities sprinkled through the clubhouse. Between Rollins and teammate Ryan Howard, they have two of the biggest, most infectious smiles you’ve ever seen. When engaged Jimmy gives you his undivided attention. He has his “rules” and he captains his own ship, but if you’re with the media and you understand that about him, the structure is tolerable.
I talked with Rollins for a while after practice. Jimmy said he did a good job this off-season staying focused on his workouts. He watched his buddy Ryan work the banquet circuit last year after he won the MVP in 2006 and said he learned a lot from him on how to handle the demands that go along with the honor. Last year, Ryan claimed that he gained 15 pounds from eating his way through all the awards ceremonies. Fifteen pounds on Ryan’s 6-foot-4 frame is a whole lot different than putting that weight on the 5-foot-8 shortstop.
Jimmy also talked about the rivalry with the Mets and says he paid little attention to Carlos Beltran’s comments from last weekend.
The Mets’ outfielder uncharacteristically sent some choices words Rollins way. Beltran said: “Tell Jimmy (Rollins) we’re the team to beat in the NL East this year.”
Jimmy’s proclamation that the Phillies were the team to beat last season resonated throughout the Mets clubhouse all year – and ended up being true. Rollins said he thinks the whole thing is funny now and that the verbal sparring only intensifies the rivalry between division foes.
Time to get to work
Rollins said he had hoped to have a jersey made up that said Kobayashi on the back – an effort to further poke fun at Kyle Kendrick, who was told he was traded to Japan in a prank over the weekend. Kendrick was told he was traded for “Kobayashi,” who is a champion hot-dog eater.
That idea is strong but may have to wait. When manager Charlie Manuel addressed the team for the first time on Tuesday, he told it that it was time to focus on the work at hand. He reminded the team that they have a lot to do to get back to the playoffs.
Of course, if one player could get away with a joke in the wake of Charlie’s speech, it’s Jimmy Rollins.
The aftermath of the prank looks to have peaked. The video that made the rounds on the Internet is no longer riding the top spot on YouTube, though it was the most-viewed video on Yahoo on Monday.
Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers, the two main participants in the joke, appeared on the “Today” show Tuesday. They were interviewed by hosts Matt Lauer and Meridith Viera until outfielder Shane Victorino capped off the interview with a pie in the face of Myers. While Phillies fans have seen the Victorino stunt a thousand times, it was a big hit on the national broadcast.
Better yet, to watch the original “Traded to Japan” prank pulled off by then Reading coach Larry Andersen on minor league pitcher Wayne Gomes, back in the mid-90s, go to the Reading Phillies web site. It’s darn funny, too.
I guess I should talk some actual baseball.
Wes Helms took grounders at only first base on Tuesday. The extra work there makes it possible for the third baseman to be more versatile. The only problem with that is first baseman Ryan Howard (105 home runs the last two seasons) won’t be spending much time on the bench.
It seems very unlikely that Helms will be with the Phillies when the team breaks camp in late March. There just doesn’t seem to be any room for him. Nevertheless, Helms is signed with the team for some good money for the 2008 season, but there are a number of players under contract and the team can’t keep more than 25 come Opening Day.
Here’s how the bench looks:
IF – Eric Bruntlett
C – Chris Coste
IF – Greg Dobbs
IF – Helms
OF – Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth
OF – So Taguchi
Assuming the Phillies carry 12 pitchers when the season begins – which is what they typically do – one of these players will have to go and Helms looks like the odd man out.
The Phillies bench breaks down like this:
• Taguchi will see significant time in the outfield, backing up in left and center field.
• Bruntlett is the only player on the roster that can play shortstop. Jimmy Rollins doesn’t miss much playing time (he set a major league record with 716 at bats last season, playing in all 162 games), but if something was to happen to him there’s nobody to back him up except Bruntlett.
• Chris Coste is the only backup catcher.
• Greg Dobbs was instrumental to the teams’ success last year off the bench. Dobbs plays both corners of the infield and the outfield. He can also play some second base if absolutely necessary.
• Jayson Werth and Geoff Jenkins will platoon in right field (although Jenkins will likely get more time) so they’re not going anywhere either.
That leaves Helms as the odd man out.
But if the Phillies carry 11 pitchers, they could make room for another bench player. Manuel said it’s not out of the question. Here’s how the bullpen sets up right now:
RHP – Chad Durbin
RHP – Tom Gordon
RHP – Brad Lidge
RHP – Ryan Madson
LHP – J.C. Romero
• Madson and Durbin (unless he makes the starting rotation, which would take him out of the mix. He handled both roles while with the Detroit Tigers last year) can pitch two innings.
• Romero is your lefty out of the ‘pen.
• Gordon will pitch the eighth inning to set up for Lidge, though he will occasionally close.
Manuel says that the Phillies will add a couple of relievers to pitch two innings along with Madson and Durbin.
It used to be that teams carried 12 out of camp and backed it down to 11 during the season, but the Phillies carried 12 most of last year and Charlie likes having the options.
Wednesday morning is a big day for Ryan Howard. That’s when the slugger goes to the arbitration table to plead his case for the $10 million. The panel of three arbitrators will either decide in favor of Howard or the Phillies, who offered $7 million. There is no in between. A decision shouldn’t be expected until Thursday or Friday.
Either way, Howard is about to enter into a whole new tax bracket.