Jimmy Rollins ready to start things off for Dodgers

New shortstop will be in leadoff role for Dodgers

If Jimmy Rollins is still learning his way around his new clubhouse, he will at least be familiar with his place in the Dodgers' lineup.

Rollins will bat leadoff.

That's where he'll be in Wednesday's Cactus League opener against the Chicago White Sox, and also during the regular season.

"That's the one guy that I think that we are pretty sure about," Manager Don Mattingly said. "Jimmy's really kind of that leadoff guy."

Rollins, 36, was primarily a No. 2 hitter last season with the Philadelphia Phillies. But in the 2,035 starts he made over his 15 seasons with the Phillies, he batted leadoff 1,435 times. That's where he hit when he was the National League's most valuable player in 2007.

Rollins said his mentality is different when he is the first player into the batter's box.

Batting second, he said, "It feels like the game starts later for you. I was accustomed to being the leadoff hitter, where you're thrown into the fire. I just like that feeling of having to go out there and lead the way.

"So to be back there, as of now, you feel like you're that fire-starter again, like you'll be that sparkplug that gets things going."

Rollins will be taking the place of Dee Gordon, who batted leadoff 133 times for the Dodgers last season. Gordon was traded to the Miami Marlins in the off-season.

Yasiel Puig batted first 11 times last season, but Mattingly said he envisions the All-Star outfielder in the middle of the order.

Rollins batted only .243 last season and had a modest on-base percentage of .323. Still, Mattingly said he likes Rollins at the top of the lineup because he can switch-hit and run. Rollins stole 28 bases last season, even though he missed the final three weeks of the season with a strained hamstring.

"I was disappointed with 28 bases, but it's what it was," Rollins said. "I always set a goal. It used to be that 30 was the minimum. Now, I've kind of cut that back to 25 with aspirations to get to 30."

As he's gotten older, Rollins has relied increasingly on his smarts to steal bases. He thinks he will benefit from working again with first base coach Davey Lopes, who was a coach with the Phillies from 2007 to 2010 and taught him the finer points of base stealing.

While Rollins is already well acquainted with Lopes, he is still getting to know his new teammates.

He has made a special effort to forge a bond with new double play partner Howie Kendrick, another newcomer. Kendrick was acquired in an off-season trade with the Angels.

"We've been spending time," Rollins said. "Now that the games are starting, we'll spend more time. When we're doing our individual work, we'll make sure that we work together on turning double plays, just to get used to each other's feeds."

Kendrick will also be in the lineup Wednesday as the Dodgers' second baseman and cleanup hitter.

"Jimmy's awesome," Kendrick said. "I've watched him for years, before I even made it to the majors. He's professional going about his work. I'm excited to get out on the field with him."

In addition to Kendrick, Rollins has also spent considerable time with Puig. Rollins and Puig recently spoke through an interpreter for a couple of hours.

Asked his impressions of Puig, Rollins laughed.

"He's like a kid," Rollins said. "That's the best way to put it. He just wants to have fun. He wants everyone to like him, for sure.

"Especially when you talk to him one-on-one, with no one around, he's no different than anyone. I think he likes that — not being different — but he also likes being the star at the same time. That, 'I am special.' Because that talent is special.

"What that man can do, at that size, I still shake my head. I'm shaking my head now. He's just special, man. If you can get all that energy channeled in the right direction every single day, the sky's the roof. Actually, there is no roof."

Short hops

Andre Ethier will start in center field Wednesday. The projected regular-season starter at the position, rookie Joc Pederson, will be the designated hitter. Mattingly said he plans for Ethier to play all over the outfield during the exhibition season.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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