Phils still hoping for big things from Brown
WASHINGTON – Two games into the latest chapter of Domonic Brown’s baseball life … not bad.
Brown had a pinch-hit single on an 0-2 pitch after joining the Phillies on Tuesday night.
He came back Wednesday night, made his first big-league start of the season, and had a strong game in left field. At the plate, he was hitless but delivered a nice at-bat when he moved up a runner in the fourth inning.
The Phillies have turned their attention to 2013 and among the questions they must answer before then is: Can Brown be an everyday corner outfielder next season?
The Phils desperately need this to happen because they need to inject some inexpensive but productive youth into their lineup.
Actually, the Phils don’t need a definitive answer on Brown over these final two months of the season. But they have to come away with a pretty good feeling that he has a chance to grow into a job next season or they will have one more hole to fill on an already long list.
It wasn’t long ago that Brown was an untouchable in the Phillies' farm system. The team would not deal him for Roy Halladay in 2009. Ditto for Cliff Lee in 2010. The untouchable label has faded, but there’s still time for the 24-year-old to blossom into a big-league contributor.
“He’s going to get a chance to play,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He’s going to get a chance to show what he can do.”
Brown had big-league auditions in 2010 and 2011. He didn’t do much at the plate in 2010. Last year, he swung the bat well at times and showed signs of plate discipline, but his defense was a hazard that the Phils could not afford. In both trips to the majors, Brown replaced an injured player and the Phils were in win-or-else mode. That can create some pressure on a young player. The pressure should be less on Brown this time around as the Phils play the role of spoiler. Wednesday night’s 3-2 victory gave them two straight wins over NL East leader Washington (see game recap)
Manuel plans on showing patience with Brown over these final two months of the season, but he did acknowledge that there comes a time in a player’s career when he must give his team reason to believe he can succeed.
“Tools keep you in the big leagues for a while,” Manuel said. “But pretty soon your performance pushes you aside or keeps you there.”
Brown knows that.
“This is definitely good for me,” he said. “Let me go out there and sink or swim and we’ll see what happens.”
Phillies elders have been especially concerned with Brown’s defense. He was shaky in right field last season and shaky in left field in spring training. He has played all three outfield position this season, and believes he has improved. He believes he’s ready to play a big-league brand of defense.
So far, so good.
Brown showed off his big arm by throwing out a runner at home plate from left field on Wednesday night. Washington pitcher Edwin Jackson isn’t exactly a speed merchant, but Brown’s throw was on the mark, strong and accurate, and it surely pleased Phillies officials. Throwing has never been Brown’s problem, however. Still to be determined is whether his routes to balls in the outfield have improved. He looked good catching a drive to the wall behind Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth.
Over the past two years, Brown has shuttled back and forth to the minors, suffered a broken hand and assorted other nagging injuries, and shifted from right field to left field.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believes Brown is in a better place mentally to handle the challenge of breaking into the majors now. Brown, who turns 25 in September, agrees.
“I’ve gotten stronger through all the obstacles I’ve gone through,” he said.
In 60 games at Triple A this season, Brown hit .286 (63 for 220) with five homers and 28 RBIs. Manuel thinks there’s a lot more in that bat.
“I think he’s going to be a good hitter,” Manuel said. “He has all the tools. Big power. Good hand-eye coordination. He puts the ball in play. He had a better swing in spring training. His balance has improved. I’ve always said he’s going to be a good hitter and when he puts his entire game together he’ll be a good big-league player.”
In a perfect world, the Phillies are in first place in the NL East and Brown is still getting developmental reps at Triple A. But in the real world, the Phils are in last place, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are gone, and Brown is getting his reps in the majors.
Manuel has made it no secret that he believes Brown needs to improve his handling of the game’s subtleties, things like base running and moving runners. That’s why it was good to see Brown move a runner Wednesday night. Little things can add up to big things and the Phillies are still hoping for big things from Brown.