Ask him why he made the change and he just shrugs. After fouling out and striking out in his first two at-bats - Brown entered the game in the ninth inning - he figured he'd try something new. In the 14th inning, he made solid contact on a line-out to centerfield. Then, in the 17th, he hit a long fly out, again to center.
"It just felt good," Brown said.
In the 18 games that followed, Brown went 17-for-58 (.293) with six walks, seven strikeouts, four doubles, and four home runs, including a shot to the second deck at Citizens Bank Park in a 9-1 victory over the Marlins on Tuesday night.
Watch a slow-motion replay of that home run - his second of the night - and you'll see his new mechanics in action. As Marlins righthander Edward Mujica cocks his arm and begins to direct his momentum toward the plate, Brown raises his right knee. Down 0-2 in the count, he immediately recognizes a slider out of the pitcher's hand and lifts the knee even higher to load the back half of his upper body like a spring. As the ball passes into the zone, Brown drops his hands and unleashes his swing, a violently smooth transfer of energy from body to bat that sends the ball sailing into the second level of seats above the rightfield wall.
The 23-year-old is hardly an innovator. Strawberry, who was 1 year older than Brown when he slugged 27 homers and helped lead the Mets to the World Series in 1986, was known for his leg kick. According to Phillies hitting coach Greg Gross, catcher Carlos Ruiz will occasionally switch to a leg kick.
"The only problem is if you aren't used to doing it; you have to realize that anything you do along those lines has to be thought of in your swing," Gross said. "You are adding something to get ready, so in order to do those things you have to make sure you are in synch with when you have to do it in relationship to the pitcher."
Brown has had no such problems, Gross said. Heading into yesterday's doubleheader, he had played in 22 games since the Phillies called him up in late May, striking out 11 times while drawing eight walks in 81 plate appearances. Last season, when Brown made his major league debut in late-July, he drew just five walks while striking out 24 times in 70 plate appearances. The improved plate discipline was a big reason why he carried a .250 batting average and .807 OPS into yesterday's action.
Nobody expects Brown to match the .277 batting average, .947 OPS and 29 home runs that Strawberry posted as a 23-year-old. But if the leg kick helps, the Phillies won't complain.
Cole Hamels thinks his back is a non-issue. And Charlie Manuel seems to agree. The Phillies manager said yesterday that he expects Hamels, who left Tuesday night's game in the eighth inning with tightness in his middle back, to make his scheduled start in Seattle on Sunday.
"Yeah, he's going to make his next start, just from talking to him today," Manuel said.
That's bad news for the Mariners, who will match young stars Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez against Roy Oswalt and a spot starter (likely righthander Vance Worley) on Friday and Saturday. After holding the Marlins to one run in seven innings on Tuesday, Hamels ranked third in the NL in innings (92) and fourth in strikeouts (97) and ERA (2.49). His 9-2 record also tied him with Roy Halladay for the NL lead in wins.