03/04/09 5:15 PM ET
Rollins, Jeter provide win-win choice
Pair of All-Stars holding down shortstop for Team USA
By Chris Girandola / Special to MLB.com
In Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins, Team USA manager Davey Johnson has two All-Star-quality players at shortstop to choose from.
"My biggest problem is that I have two Hall of Fame shortstops and my team captain is Jeter," said Johnson, who is in his sixth year with USA Baseball. "I wouldn't necessarily consider that a problem, though."
When asked if it's a no-win or no-lose situation, the former big league player and manager paused before answering.
"Well, it's depending on your personality," Johnson said. "Whichever way I go, I'm sure I'll be successful. They don't have to audition for me, they may have to audition for you, but not for me. I don't care if they strike out five times, I'm gonna want them out there in crunch time."
But in planning for the scenario at the World Baseball Classic, Johnson almost was faced with finding a replacement for one of his high-caliber shortstops. Following Tuesday's game against the Yankees, Rollins complained of tightness in his back. A sigh of "uh-oh" went up at both camps of Team USA and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Apparently, Rollins has been experiencing discomfort in the left side of his back since he and the Phillies went on their World Series championship run last year.
"I should have gotten in the hot tub and done some training when I first got here for spring training," Rollins said before Wednesday's exhibition game against the Blue Jays. "It was jammed up for a while [over the past couple of months] and then I got it moving and it popped out. The good thing is it's moving. The bad thing is it hurts when I move it up and down."
And on Wednesday, Johnson planned to have Rollins test it out in a limited fashion against the Blue Jays with "an at-bat or two."
In managing teams, Johnson has always held the attitude of keeping the line of communication open with players, and it is no different with his current crop of stars.
"I generally don't wait until the player comes to me, I generally go to them," Johnson said. "When I'm managing, I want everyone on the ballclub to know exactly what I'm thinking, but not only what I'm thinking but knowing exactly what I'm gonna do. I'm not just speaking and then not doing it. I don't want to lose credibility and respect from them, and I think they can prepare better when they know what's expected from them. I've actually had discussions with all the position players about that prior to the first inning."
Knowing that, Rollins understood that he was to be an integral part of this team. He also knew he had accepted the invitation to play for the United States because he has a strong sense of pride for his country, and he didn't want to let this opportunity pass him by.
Following a spirited warmup session with his teammates in which the group gathered together and let out a collective "Go Team" chant, Rollins did some short and long toss with Ryan Braun, fielded grounders with Jeter and took the usual amount of hacks in the batting cage.
Then, he approached Johnson behind the cage and announced, "Put me in, skip. I'm ready to play."
Scratch Jeter, pencil in Rollins.
"The main goal is to be loose and stay loose," Rollins said.
Rollins did just that. putting in a full nine innings of work at short with five appearances at the plate in Team USA's 6-5 loss.
"I felt good," said Rollins, who went 1-for-5 with a double, a run scored and two RBIs. "[Johnson] was nervous. He said, 'Hey, let me know, you don't have to be a hero.' I was like, 'Hey, I tried to be a hero for two weeks last year, and it cost me five more.' So he knew he didn't have anything to worry about."
Rollins tried to play through a sprained ankle last season and it cost him a stint on the disabled list so he fully understands when and if he can push through physical ailments.
"I know my body more, and I'm not going to take a chance on anything, if it's not worth it," said Rollins, who anticipates playing four or five innings in Clearwater, Fla., on Thursday against the Phillies. "I wanted to play against my teammates, so it was nice to work things out today. I'm looking forward to it."
For Johnson, knowing that he still has the same "problem" of having two All-Star shortstops makes things a lot easier heading into the first round of the Classic.
"He looked great, and that's a good sign," Johnson said. "He said he was feeling better as the game went along and the back wasn't bothering him and he'll get some at-bats tomorrow with Jeter, so it's a great sign."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.