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Fundamentals a focus under Sandberg

In first season as skipper, Hall of Famer setting tone early for Phillies

Special to

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- As the Phillies prepared for batting practice before their game against the Boston Red Sox on March 21 at Bright House Field, Jimmy Rollins and reliever Mike Adams stood in foul territory next to third base. Rollins was crouched down as if he was in his defensive position at shortstop, creeping toward Adams while explaining to him how he would signal that he was going toward second base for a pickoff play.

After Rollins and Adams walked away, infielder Reid Brignac took Rollins' place, having the same type of discussion with right-hander David Buchanan.

All of this followed a morning infield drill during which the entire Phillies pitching staff practiced pickoff moves. Such drills have become a common occurrence during Spring Training, as part of the philosophy of the man who took the helm in Philadelphia last August.

Ryne Sandberg believes in fundamentals, and whether it's leading a defensive drill or gathering a group of players around him in the batting cage to talk hitting mechanics, he demonstrates that he wants things done right.

In his first Spring Training as a big league manager, Sandberg has set an early tone with the Phillies -- making known his expectations for a team that has struggled over the past two years, and for whom Father Time is beckoning.

Sandberg's counterpart on Friday was Red Sox manager John Farrell, who himself made his debut as Boston's manager last spring and eventually guided the club to a World Series title following a 93-loss season in 2012. He spoke before the game about the importance of establishing expectations early on in Spring Training.

"I was fortunate to be in a position to contribute with many, many players ... from our front office all the way through every guy that played for us last year, which is 49 different players," Farrell said. "We set out in Spring Training to establish what our expectations were and how we were going to prepare and how we were going to compete, and the type of style of play that we wanted to play every night. But our guys did such a great job of buying into a team concept and putting their own personal self aside for what we were going to do collectively."

And while the average age of the players on Philadelphia's roster has been viewed as a potential obstacle (the average age of the projected starting lineup is 31 years), Farrell also said that veteran players are a big help to a manager in the process of setting the tone for a successful campaign.

"Just thinking about the veterans that we have here, not only are they talented, but they had established routines," Farrell said. "And they can certainly assist tremendously in what is trying to be built in that clubhouse, and the chemistry that evolves in the clubhouse from the group."

Sandberg's challenge is to reestablish a winning culture in a Phillies clubhouse that hasn't tasted the postseason since 2011 after a club-record five consecutive playoff appearances. So far, he's happy with the work ethic he's seen and what he's been able to accomplish in Spring Training.

"I think the work ethic and the running programs and the participation has been very good," Sandberg said after the Phillies and Red Sox played to a 2-2 tie. "In camp we wanted to stay healthy, that was a key thing. Now we've got a couple of bench players that are banged up and we'll just deal with that. And it's good seeing the other players in all these games, being able to evaluate, and see who goes north with us."

Sandberg said there's "no question" that after managing for six seasons in the Minor Leagues, with a winning percentage of .517, his first Spring Training as a manager in the Majors has been special. And while Farrell doesn't know much about Sandberg's managerial philosophy, he believes he has the pedigree to be successful.

"I don't know his style," Farrell said. "I haven't been around him. Every manager is going to run their team as they see fit for the people that they have. But he's a long-time baseball guy and a Hall of Fame player that I'm sure will get the most out of his players."

Manny Randhawa is a journalism student at Indiana University.

Philadelphia Phillies