Confident Rollins ready to challenge DiMaggio

Updated: February 20, 2006, 5:29 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jimmy Rollins doesn't need any pep talks.

Already known for having a swagger, the Philadelphia Phillies' shortstop came to spring training full of confidence. Three trips to the All-Star game and a long hitting streak would boost anyone's ego.

"When the pressure is on, I definitely showed up to play," Rollins said Monday, one day before the Phillies held their first full-team workout. "I was able to prove it last year."

The Phillies finished one game behind NL wild-card winner Houston despite Rollins' outstanding effort in the final month. He hit .385 (62-for-161) during his season-ending 36-game hitting streak, and now has his sights on breaking Joe DiMaggio's major league record of 56.

There is a catch, though, because DiMaggio did it in the same season. The major league marks for longest hitting streak in one season and longest hitting streak spanning two seasons are separate records.

DiMaggio holds both marks with his 56-game streak in 1941, but there is a difference in the NL records: Pete Rose (1978) and Willie Keeler (1897) share the NL mark at 44 games. However, Keeler got a hit in his final game of 1896, so his run of 45 games overall is the first record Rollins can chase.

"I pretty much started getting ready for it mentally about three weeks ago," Rollins said.

Can he do it?

"Why not? That's what I'm here for, maybe do something special," he said. "Everybody wants to be that man at least once a year.

"When I looked back at it after the season, I was like, 'Wow.' That's 36 games of going to work every day and being successful, but he did it for 20 more days. It's really unimaginable that somebody can hit in that many games straight but here I am cross the halfway point, but that's when it gets tough."

The hitting streak is the ninth-longest over one season in big league history, and the longest in the majors since 1987, when Paul Molitor hit safely in 39 consecutive games. The old Phillies franchise record of 31 was set by Ed Delahanty in 1899.

Complicating matters is the early season schedule, which has the Phillies playing much of the time in what could be cold weather, when sustaining hitting streaks becomes difficult. Philadelphia opens with six home games, goes on a six-game trip to Atlanta and Colorado, then returns for a 10-game homestand.

But among players on the Phillies, Rollins is best suited to handle the pressure of pursuing such a record.

"He's ideal for it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Personality is an important part of the game. He has a very good personality and he can be very special."

Even if Rollins falls short, he's finally put himself among the elite players at his position. Since his rookie year in 2001, Rollins has been overshadowed by big-name shortstops like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada. Rodriguez plays third base now for the New York Yankees and Garciaparra is making the switch to first base after joining the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Though he earned recognition by making the All-Star team in 2001-02 and 2005, Rollins didn't get much national exposure until the hitting streak. Now he hears about it wherever he goes. During an offseason trip to Las Vegas, Rollins was riding in a limousine when the driver turned to him and warned that pitchers will be coming after him to stop the streak.

"It brought a lot of attention to me," Rollins said. "All they (the other star shortstops) had more than me was time, especially in the playoffs, to prove themselves. I haven't had that opportunity yet."

Rollins came close to reaching the postseason last year. The Phillies' chances of ending their 12-year playoff drought this season depend a lot on his performance. Rollins had a poor start last year and Philadelphia struggled in April, going 10-14.

He finished the season hitting .290 with 12 homers, 54 RBIss, 115 runs scored and 41 steals. Moreover, he locked up the leadoff spot after a few years of being moved around the batting order.

Rollins still isn't considered a prototypical leadoff hitter because he doesn't walk a lot -- he had 47 in 2005 -- and his career on-base percentage is only .328. However, Manuel said he's his best option.

"Jimmy likes to swing at the first pitch and people may look at it when he pops one up or makes an easy out," Manuel said. "He's definitely capable of, through experience, working the count."

Rollins, of course, thinks he's doesn't have much to improve upon.

"You guys feel that way, not me," he said. "If I do what I did last year, that's fine with me."

Game notes
RF Bobby Abreu is the only player on the 40-man roster not in camp. Abreu is expected in Tuesday with the rest of the team. He had planned to arrive Monday, but had travel issues in Venezuela. ... 3B David Bell is switching from No. 4 to No. 25 to honor his father, Buddy, and grandfather, Gus. Jim Thome previously wore No. 25 for the Phillies.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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