Whether the Phillies earn their sixth consecutive playoff berth doesn't solely hinge on the success of Jimmy Rollins.

 

But it is a main ingredient.

 

When Rollins acts as the catalyst, the Phillies tend to respond. He's their on-field leader, their emotional and inspirational director.

 

Heading into last night's opener against Washington, the Phillies stood at .500, with a 21-21 record. Not coincidentally, Rollins is struggling. He's hitting .229 with one home run, seven RBIs and an uncharacteristic three errors.

 

Rollins has battled through slumps before, but this seems different. He's 33 and playing in his 13th season with the Phils after signing a three-year, $33 million contract with an option for a fourth year. Unless they trade Rollins, he's likely to end his career with the organization that selected him in the second round of the 1996 draft.

 

At some point, the Phillies will need Rollins to spark this club like he has done so many times in the past.

"He could be hitting better, of course," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's gotten off to slow starts before. It's nothing new to him. He's going to have to pick it up for us."

Manuel has watched Rollins take some good swings. The task now is to see Rollins do it every at-bat. The skipper held the shortstop out of the lineup yesterday after Rollins' wife, Johari, gave birth to a baby girl on Sunday.

"He hooks a lot of balls from the left side," Manuel said. "Especially the last few days, he's hitting the ball through the middle, which is a way to get his stroke back."