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August 04, 2015

Back in town, Jimmy Rollins talks Sandberg, Hamels, Utley, and current Phillies

In his first game at Citizens Bank Park as a visitor on Tuesday night, Jimmy Rollins was avoiding any sentimentalism. He didn’t feel that the whole arrangement was particularly weird. He didn’t have the date circled on his calendar for weeks, although his phone was consistently going off all day. And just like normal, Rollins sure wasn’t showing up two hours early to greet everyone before the game.

There was one thing the Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop (man, that feels weird to type) did struggle with, though: finding the visitors’ clubhouse. 

“Actually, I’m glad there were cameras hanging out around the entrance,” Rollins said. “I’ve made the walk, but that was just to do some things for the big screen. Most of the time, we would just come across the field. So actually coming from the parking lot all the way around, I was like, ‘Damn, this is a pretty long walk.’”

Rollins is in greener (bluer) pastures now, but less than a year removed from playing for the Phillies, he still knows the organization’s current state pretty well. He answered questions on a variety of subjects, but many had to do with his views on recent times as a Phillie and where the franchise moves going forward. Here are a few things that stood out.

Sandberg’s ‘unfortunate’ dismissal

The friction between Rollins and former Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg was a major storyline in spring training last season. It’s safe to say they won’t be exchanging Christmas cards anytime soon. Rollins called Sandberg stepping down from his duties in June “unfortunate.”

“It was a rough place,” Rollins said of Sandberg's clubhouse. “But that is where the communication comes in.  When you are able to talk things through, you can fix those rough patches or not even have them. But it just didn’t quite work out that way.”

Rollins talked to Ruben Amaro, Jr. after last season (before he was traded in December) about Sandberg’s communication issues. He knew the Hall of Fame second baseman possessed a quiet demeanor from the year Sandberg served as third base coach, but Rollins felt the 55-year-old manager needed to improve in terms of talking to players and clearly conveying his message.

“As a manager, you have to deal with 25 personalities,” Rollins said. “Actually, more because guys get hurt and guys come up [from the minors]. So it isn’t just about the X's and O's and executing the game plan. When you manage, you have to manage the players. You manage the game during the gametime. In the meantime, you have to manage the players.”

Communication isn’t an area where Rollins struggles. He contrasted Sandberg and interim manager Pete Mackanin, who the 36-year-old shortstop said “always kept things light no matter what.” On the whole, Rollins didn’t feel there were enough light moments in the locker room last season under Sandberg’s watch.

“It was a rough place,” Rollins said. “But that is where the communication comes in.  When you are able to talk things through, you can fix those rough patches or not even have them. But it just didn’t quite work out that way.”

Texting with Hamels

Rollins dubbed Cole Hamels “Hollywood” way back when, and he talked about  wanting his former teammate in Dodger Blue when the Phillies were on the West Coast a month ago. After hearing the news that Hamels was being shipped to Texas instead, he simply sent the 31-year-old pitcher an emoji. Which one? Rollins wouldn’t tell, but the smart money is with the Daily News’ Ryan Lawrence.

“It wasn’t the happiest of emojis,” Rollins said. “But he’s somewhere else and I’m sure he’s pretty excited to be there, although they’re not in the best of situations. They still have an outside chance. And that’s all you can ask -- when you do get traded somewhere -- is that you have some say that hopefully you get traded to a place that has potential either the following year or immediately when you get there. They’re kind of in both positions.”

Rollins also sees a few similarities between Hamels and the star left-handed pitcher on his current team, Clayton Kershaw. As for the position the Phillies find themselves in after the deal, he can at least relate to Pat Gillick offering a conservative timeline when it comes to contention.

“Obviously you got to have the talent to [become a winning team],” Rollins said. “I know they made that trade with Cole and brought over some guys. I'm not sure how far away they are. But when Pat [Gillick] got here, he said we wouldn't compete for about another three years, I think we all took it personally and sped that process up.”

Feeling for Chase

After forming such a formidable double play combo for so many years in Philly, Rollins hasn’t enjoyed hearing about Chase Utley's struggles from 3,000 miles away. The injuries have undoubtedly played a major factor in the second baseman’s performance, but Rollins also believes the strong play of Cesar Hernandez places added pressure on Utley.

“For a while, he started coming out of it and then, boom, he gets injured again,” Rollins said. “I’ve spoken to Chase and he’s definitely in a good mindset. But no one wants to struggle like that, especially when he’s been that great for so many years.”

There were some reports at the trade deadline from CSN Philly that the Chicago Cubs had an interest in acquiring Utley. There is still a chance the second baseman could be dealt during the waiver period this month. Utley has 10-and-5 rights, which give him the right to refuse any trade.

Like Utley, Rollins also had 10-and-5 rights. Initially unwilling to accept a trade, he decided Los Angeles was a place he wanted to play, even if the 1988 World Series still provides some bad memories for the Oakland native.

“I spoke with Ruben and was like ‘If you can get me here, let’s do it,’” Rollins said. “And fortunately, both sides were able to agree.”

‘They have no shot’

After playing the first half of his career on teams that generally had to slug their way to victory, Rollins has been given a front row seat to some excellent pitching in recent years. In 2010 and 2011, the Phillies had Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt in the fold. Now? A couple of guys named Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke.

Rollins knows that from a team standpoint, he’s had it pretty good.

“I’ve been very fortunate in that regard,” Rollins said. “Obviously, the streaks that Kersh is on [37 innings] and Greink was on [45.2 innings], you just smile. I go out there sometimes and I look at the first inning and I’ll go talk to A.J. [Ellis] and go ‘They have no shot today.’ 

"It was like that with Cole and Doc. They just have their ball moving. You see the angle, you see the hitter’s expression, you see whether they’re flinching and you’re like, ‘These dudes have no chance. All we need to do is score two.’”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann