WASHINGTON - Jimmy Rollins' eyes were open wide as he looked up and shook his head. Sitting on a stool in front of his locker, the shortstop sighed and offered a half-smile.
"It can't be this hard," Rollins said of hitting a baseball, the skill that brought him success and fame, and abandoned him for most of April and early May of this season. "You have something that you do during your whole life and for some reason it's like, 'Why can't I do it anymore? What happened that is making this so difficult?' "
But as Rollins dissected his season-long slump Sunday, he allowed himself to hope that the worst had passed. The leadoff hitter's on-base percentage is now .268, up from .231 on May 10.
Rollins was 7 for 18 in his team's four-game sweep of the Nationals over the weekend, lifting his batting average from .200 to .222. The series in Washington provided Rollins with a needed mental lift.
Though the uptick came during a week where manager Charlie Manuel twice dropped him to fifth in the lineup, Rollins does not credit that move for his turnaround. Rather, he admitted that both his confidence and mechanics have wavered for most of this season - but seem to be returning.
Through April and half of May, Rollins said, he was beginning his swing by allowing his front foot to linger in the air for longer than necessary. This caused him to swing early on breaking balls and late on fastballs. "If your foot's late and you jump on the fastball, you swing and it's in the glove," he said.
"It goes from at-bat to at bat," he said. "I have a good swing, whether I have a hit or not, and it's like, OK, I can build off of that. Then you go to the next at-bat and take a bad swing or do something like hit a weak fly ball or weak ground ball."
He sighed again. "You're like, 'My God. Everything I've been waiting on for the last 21/2 innings is just shot to pieces that quickly.' So you say, 'OK, the next at-bat, start over.' "
That hyper-awareness of his technical issues, and strong desire to improve, has delayed the shortstop's reemergence.
"I need to go back to the most primal way of learning: See something, your body makes an adjustment to tell you when to swing, when to get the foot down, where to swing without thinking," he said. "It's like a little kid. That's why little kids learn so well. They just watch, repeat what they see or just do what their brain tells them to do. They don't have that sophisticated sense of being able to think, which is bad for you at times."
He said he is doing the opposite of Raul Ibanez, the team's hottest hitter. Ibanez, Rollins said, is reacting to pitches without having to think. "The home run he hit in the upper deck Saturday, he thought that ball was belt high," he said. "And it was actually down below the belt. But there was no thought process; he just went with the pitch."
Rollins is hoping to find that same easy rhythm. "You go through the rain, there's going to be sun on the other side of those clouds eventually," he said. "I was telling a friend the other day, 'It can't be this hard.' He said: 'Yes, it can.' "
Insurance plan. Catcher Paul Bako has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Phillies. Bako, 36, will report to extended spring training in Clearwater. Bako has hit .231 with 21 home runs and 186 runs batted in 745 major-league games with 10 teams.