Phillies desperation means a call-up for Domonic Brown

Domonic Brown watches from the dugout after being called up to the big leagues to help the Phillies' faltering lineup.
Domonic Brown watches from the dugout after being called up to the big leagues to help the Phillies' faltering lineup. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 21, 2011

In the end, the manager won. Charlie Manuel wanted Domonic Brown with the Phillies, to try to help ignite a lineup that has struggled to get hits, much less runs. Ruben Amaro Jr. wanted Brown to marinate a little longer at triple-A Lehigh Valley, to work on his hitting, his defense, and his baserunning.

During a late-night meeting in Manuel's office after the Phillies' 7-1 loss to Colorado on Thursday, the men finally agreed. Manuel promised to monitor the 23-year-old Brown and to ease him in against lefthanded pitching. Amaro agreed to eat the words he had uttered about Brown earlier in the night: "We don't think he's ready to do it."

And so on Friday, as he was about to eat breakfast at a Scranton hotel, Brown bumped into IronPigs manager Ryne Sandberg, who was still in his pajamas and looking for Brown. Sandberg delivered the news: The Phillies had called up Brown.

It speaks to the Phillies' desperation that Manuel was able to convince Amaro to cede to his wishes. Since posting a franchise-best 18-8 record in April, the Phillies had lost 9 of their 17 May games entering their interleague series against Texas on Friday night. Disappearing bats were a major reason.

Over their last 13 games before Friday, the Phillies were batting .202 with 32 runs scored and a .258 on-base percentage. Narrow that sample size to the previous six games before last night's, and the numbers dipped even further: a .157 batting average, only six extra-base hits, only 10 runs, and a .120 average with runners in scoring position.

Ryan Howard epitomized the Phillies' hitting troubles. Entering the Rangers series, he was 0 for his last 20 at-bats.

With Chase Utley not ready to come back from his rehabilitation stint at single-A Clearwater, Shane Victorino now on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring, and Ben Francisco not distinguishing himself in right, something had to give. So Amaro did.

The general manager's overnight flop was akin to Andy Reid's saying Kevin Kolb was his starting quarterback one Monday last September and then announcing on Tuesday that Michael Vick was the starter. Those types of franchise-rattling shifts rarely occur after strong declarations to the contrary.

"There's still a question whether he's ready to come and play on a regular basis," Amaro said. "The circumstances changed, and I changed my mind. It's pretty simple, really."

Only it isn't.

Manuel and Amaro have different philosophies when it comes to Brown. Manuel believes that he can nurture Brown the way he did Utley in 2004 and Howard in 2005. He thinks that, as long as the Phillies remain patient with him, Brown will benefit from taking regular major-league at-bats and facing top-notch major-league pitchers.

Batting .341 in 41 plate appearances in triple A is not the same as facing Derek Lowe or Kyle Lohse.

"I'll try to bring him along just like I have a lot of players," Manuel said. "I think he does make us a better team. We'll see if he can hold his own and handle it. We'll give him every opportunity, and we'll monitor it, so we can try to stir him for a while, and hopefully he'll do good enough to let him go."

It sounded as if Amaro was more concerned about Brown's finding his swing in the minors and developing confidence than rushing him back to the big leagues.

Brown hit .210 in limited action for the Phillies in the latter half of last season, then struggled during a short winter-ball stint. He went 0 for 15 to start the Grapefruit League schedule before breaking a bone in his right hand and then getting a hit.

Brown played in five rehab games in Clearwater before joining Lehigh Valley. Last week, he missed five days with a jammed thumb, and played in only 11 games total.

While it was inevitable that Brown would get here, Amaro wanted him hot and confident when he arrived. Brown is confident, but he lacks the reps at the plate and will have to get hot here.

"Was it the right thing to do? I'm not sure," Amaro said before adding, "I like the choice of Domonic over the other choices we had."

Whatever the process, Brown is here now. He did not play Friday night in the Phillies' 3-2 win against the Rangers' lefthanded starter, C.J. Wilson, but he will be on the field Saturday against righthander Colby Lewis.

Though Brown was somewhat surprised by the call-up, his father, Robert Walker, had predicted it earlier in the week. Walker was paying attention to the Phillies' offensive woes and told his son that he would get called up on Saturday and that he was going to fly up from Atlanta for a visit.

"I said, 'Whatever,' " Brown said. "I called him this morning, and he said: 'I told you.' I said, 'I'll see you later.' "

Sure enough, Walker beat Brown to Philadelphia. Brown had someone take him from Scranton to Lehigh, then he drove by himself to Philadelphia, listening to R. Kelly and arriving by 2:15 p.m.

He hopes his stay will be permanent.

"That's the big goal this time - to get here and stay here and just have fun," Brown said. "I was having fun last year, but it was a totally different ball game coming off the bench."

This is a more desperate situation than the one Brown walked into last July. If it were not, Brown would still be playing for Lehigh Valley because Amaro, not Manuel, would have won.


Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064, afox@phillynews.com, or @AshleyMFox on Twitter.

 

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