Brown's blunders continue to puzzle Phillies

Posted: March 14, 2012

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Charlie Manuel's gait took him past the first row of lockers in the cramped visitors clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium, and there was Domonic Brown, wearing only his white Under Armour tights. Manuel nodded his head, tapped Brown on the right arm and kept moving.

It would take a conversation of great length for Manuel to explain his frustration that Brown, 24, has yet to put it all together. Maybe it's best on days like Tuesday to let silence carry.

There, right in front of Manuel, is a talent so dynamic yet utterly maddening. If Brown wants to hit a baseball some 370 feet on command in the 10th inning of a meaningless Grapefruit League game, he can do it. Only after another defensive mistake did Brown step to the plate with such motivation.

"I mean," Brown said, "I was pretty much trying to swing out of my shoes."

This day, a Phillies' 6-5 loss to Houston, perfectly encapsulated Brown's current existence in baseball limbo. In the fourth inning, Brown played a double off the wall with ease, preventing a run. In the seventh, Brown skipped a throw to the cutoff man and was charged with an error. In the eighth, Brown took a bad first step and failed to grab a fly ball that became a Carlos Lee double.

"He hit a tough ball," Brown said. "That's a tough break. But I have to catch that ball. I have to catch that ball. They scored a run off that. So I was a little enthused to get up there and make a big play."

He did. It helped that a righthander named Enerio Del Rosario, who appeared in 54 games with the Astros last year, threw a fastball over the plate. Brown was sitting on the first pitch.

"When he hits the ball on the nose," Manuel said, "he moves it."

The home run temporarily broke a 10th-inning tie. It wasn't enough because nonroster lefty Jeremy Horst surrendered a walk-off home run to Houston's Brian Bixler in the bottom half of the inning.

Brown has accepted the downs with the ups. Three of his five hits (in 16 at-bats) have been for extra bases this spring. He's walked twice and has yet to strike out.

But the fielding gaffes dampen any positivity for everyone other than Brown.

"I want the ball in my hands," said Brown, a former football player. "A lot of guys say that. But I really do. Those mess-ups in the field, I know they're going to happen. But I think I'm strong enough mentally that I want to be the man in that opportunity."

Undoubtedly, Brown's opportunity will not come on the opening day roster. He is headed for triple-A Lehigh Valley barring an injury to a regular. Tuesday marked his first start in a week after spraining his right thumb on a dive necessitated by a bad route to a fly ball.

Left field is a new position for Brown, who said he's seen progress.

"Oh, yeah," Brown said. "Some of those balls straight at me, at first it was very different. I'm getting better out there, I think."

Manuel has difficulty bestowing much praise. "He has a chance to be a real good hitter," the manager said, but then disagreed with the notion Brown has regularly squared up the ball this spring.

In the last week while sidelined, Brown made a point of standing next to Manuel for a few innings each day. Manuel is impressed with Brown's frame of mind. But he wonders if one bad play affects him later.

"Basically," Manuel said, "I don't even like to talk a lot about his defense. I like to put him out there, let him play and see if he can improve."

No, some things are best left unsaid, no matter how tantalizing.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.

 

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