Rollins returns with a bang

May 9, 2008 8:42:10 PM PDT
Jimmy Rollins found his stroke in a hurry. Rollins came off the disabled list Friday and the NL MVP hit a two-run homer in his third at-bat for the Philadelphia Phillies in the series opener against the San Francisco Giants. Rollins, batting leadoff and starting at shortstop, grounded out in the first and third innings before connecting for his third homer of the year with two outs in the fifth. His drive into the left-field seats came off the first pitch from Pat Misch.

"J-Roll's day in May," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said with a grin before the game.

The 29-year-old Rollins went on the disabled list for the first time in his nine-year big league career on April 20, 12 days after he sprained his left ankle against the New York Mets. Rollins tested his tender ankle by playing in three rehab games earlier in the week before being activated.

"I'm ready," Rollins said, sitting at his locker after taking some cuts in the indoor batting cage. "It doesn't bother me. There's always going to be some tenderness from the bruising. ... It was a good decision, it really was. It was a chance to rest and not worry that you have to go out and perform."

The timing of Rollins' return was perfect, too: He grew up across the bay in nearby Alameda and had lots of family and friends coming to the game. Rollins considered trying to come back for Thursday's game at Arizona, then opted instead to make his return Friday once home in the Bay Area.

"I'm not fast yet," Rollins said with a smile. "I'm good. Is anything ever 100 percent?"

He's tested his ankle with slides, scoring from first base, cutting to tag up and turning double plays.

"It just lets me know I can do them. You kind of want to baby it, but at game speed there's really no such thing," he said. "Getting back to normal was big. I'm almost back to normal. ... You don't know you're ready until you go out and do things."

Manuel said he will trust Rollins to tell him if something is wrong, otherwise he plans to regularly play the star infielder again - while also giving Rollins' fill-in, Eric Bruntlett, the opportunities he earned over the past month.

"He gets us going. He's a guy who charges up and gets us going," Manuel said. "I take it that his leg's good. I'll play it by ear, ask him how he feels, but I plan on playing him. I'm glad he's back. He's one of our big-time players."

To clear a roster spot, Philadelphia optioned infielder Brad Harman to Double-A Reading. Harman found out he was heading down by looking at the lineup and not seeing his name. But he knew the move was likely coming.

"I had an option, so I knew it was a possibility," Harman said. "I'm ready to get back, get my at-bats in and do what they want me to do."

Rollins said he tried to assist his teammates in any way possible during his DL stint, but knew it was the right move sitting out because he couldn't do what he needed to help the team win.

He was clearly upbeat being back at the ballpark, smiling as he headed to the batting cage and greeting teammates. Rollins said he will rely on his natural instincts at first until he finds his groove again.

"A month's vacation - are you crazy? Wouldn't you want a month's vacation?" Rollins said. "I knew I couldn't do anything - I couldn't help in any way."

He signed his share of autographs for minor leaguers, even one for a player in the Yankees organization who didn't realize Rollins was really Rollins and not someone just sporting his uniform.

"One catcher didn't know who I was," Rollins said. "He said, 'They let you wear Rollins' jersey?' I said, 'Yeah, they say I look like him.' ... After the game, he came up and said, 'Oh, man, I'm sorry, I didn't know it was really you. Will you sign a ball for me?"'