Phillies' Brown worked on his swing

Posted: February 21, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - First, Gary Sheffield wanted to watch. Domonic Brown had come to a local hitting academy and asked for Sheffield, who has 22 seasons and 509 home runs to his name. Sheffield had someone tell Brown to come back in a few days so the slugger could be best prepared to tutor, but it didn't take much video for Sheffield to identify what he would change.

So Brown returned and Sheffield asked him to swing away without instructions. As the 24-year-old Brown hacked, Sheffield stood behind the plate. Then he situated himself behind Brown's back. Brown was not using his lanky 6-foot-5 frame to its full advantage, Sheffield decided. He repositioned Brown's hips and made him understand his center of gravity.

"It was just beautiful to watch," Sheffield said.

Brown wanted a winter away from organized baseball to regain his poise, so he moved near the Phillies' complex and sought Sheffield's advice. He comes to camp all but assured of a ticket to triple A, but a confident Brown had his say Tuesday.

"I'm not at peace if I start at triple A," Brown said. "I'm coming to win a job. I'm fighting to win a job here. If I start at triple A, I start at triple A."

It's a decided long shot, but as Ruben Amaro Jr. said early in the week, "Spring is a good time to dream a little bit." The Phillies are more concerned with seeing overall progress in Brown's mentality, defense, and hitting. He can leave a good impression now for a future promotion.

A winter of anonymity has resulted in a restoration of that confidence so tested in 2011. Brown endured a hitless spring, then fractured the hamate bone in his right hand. He was promoted, demoted, and then booed in triple A when he dropped fly balls and looked generally disinterested.

"I had to wake up," Brown said. "You just can't turn the switch off and on like that. You just can't do it in this game. You have to stay upbeat every day."

Part of that discovery led him to Sheffield this winter. A mutual friend made the suggestion, and two or three times a week Brown and Sheffield worked. Sheffield resisted the notion that he altered Brown's technique a great deal. He saw some holes - most noticeably weakness against inside fastballs and backdoor breaking balls - and made suggestions to correct them.

"A lot of people think because I wiggled the bat I couldn't understand someone else's style," Sheffield said.

"He opened his arms to me," said Brown.

Sheffield noticed Brown's left hip was facing the catcher, making it difficult for Brown and his long arms to turn on an inside fastball.

"Now, I have him more squared up," Sheffield said. "It's the same batting stance."

To better hit outside pitches, Sheffield had Brown balance on his back leg after his swing engaged to find his center of gravity. With better balance, Brown could stay back on the outside breaking balls.

"Now you throw him away," Sheffield said, "and it looked like he was a righthanded hitter hitting it away."

Charlie Manuel said Brown "held his own" in 210 major-league plate appearances last year, hitting .245 with five home runs. The Phillies have greater concerns about Brown's defensive ability, and he spent part of the winter learning left field under the eye of Steve Henderson, the team's minor-league outfield coordinator.

Amaro has said it is best that Brown spend more time in triple A, a sentiment Brown has heard plenty before.

"I believe if you play hard and do things the right way, great things are going to happen for you," Brown said. "If you think great, you're going to be great."

Count Sheffield, who called Brown "the most teachable kid I've ever worked with," as a believer.

"He's going to be one of the great ones," Sheffield said. "He's going to be. It's all about staying focused with him. He's a guy who wants to do great. If he can keep that same focus and intensity for 10 or 15 years, he's going to be a great one. It's all about the mental part. He seems to have it because he's a humble kid. He wants to learn."


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com or @magelb on Twitter.

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