Rollins makes instant impact on, off field for White Sox
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OAKLAND, Ariz. – It took Jimmy Rollins all of two games to make a huge impact on the White Sox, but the 37-year-old’s presence has been felt ever since he was signed to a minor-league contract a couple of days into spring training.
A former National League MVP who starred for the Philadelphia Phillies for 15 seasons before playing with the Dodgers last season, Rollins did good things for the Sox just by being within earshot of shortstop Tim Anderson, the Sox’ top prospect not named Carson Fulmer. He gave tips to Tyler Saladino, who will play enough at shortstop to keep Rollins fresh at his advanced age – that’s the plan, anyway — and Saladino listened.
And while he may no longer have his 20s-something range, Rollins’ heady presence gives the Sox a needed leader type in the middle of the infield.
“He’s a true pro,’’ said third base coach Joe McEwing, who as a New York Met played against Rollins in the early 2000s. “He brings true professionalism to this clubhouse as a mentor. He has so much knowledge, it would be foolish not to tap into that. I love being around him, talking to him, he has so much to give. What he brings is special.’’
If you’re getting the idea that McEwing is a big fan, you’re on the right track.
“I appreciated competing against him so much,’’ said McEwing, an old NL East rival of Rollins, “and as someone who grew up in Philly, I thanked him for the championships he brought.’’
There was no doubt Rollins would bring intangibles to the Sox but there was – and the jury still may be out less than a week into the season – what he can give on the field after he hit .224/.285/.358 with 13 homers over 563 plate appearances with the Dodgers in 2015. But so far, so good. After having an excellent spring, complete with with four runs, the 5-6 Oakland area native hit a game-winning homer Tuesday night against Oakland A’s closer Sean Doolittle, a solo shot with two outs in the ninth inning.
Batting right-handed, Rollins, who had hit into a double play in a run-scoring position in the previous at-bat, got a pitch over the plate he could drive.
“There are times you can look for a home run but they aren’t easy, said Rollins, who has 230 homers among his 2,424 career hits, including 40 game-winning homers and six in the ninth inning or later.
“I knew if I got a ball to hit, I was going to be able to hit it hard. You could hit a line drive over the shortstop’s head and gets in the gap for a double. Or just a single. But that one was a pitch out over the plate and down and I got just enough of it.’’
Rollins was greeted in an exuberant Sox dugout, flattened by the bullpen giving up a two-run lead in the eighth. The Sox were flying high after winning their first two games, but had a tall order in getting three in a row with A’s ace Sonny Gray starting against Sox’ second-year lefty Carlos Rodon.
Newcomers Rollins, Todd Frazier, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro have made the roster a bit older and wiser.
“There’s a lot to be said for guys who are weathered,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “I said it earlier they’re a little salty in a good way. They’ve been around, have some experience, can come back and they just seemed to hit it off very early in spring training. Hopefully that continues. ‘’