Phillies pin hopes on Domonic Brown

Domonic Brown rounds the bases after hitting a towering home run off the Yankees' Zach Nuding in Clearwater, Fla. The Phillies are counting on Brown to make a significant contribution this season.
Domonic Brown rounds the bases after hitting a towering home run off the Yankees' Zach Nuding in Clearwater, Fla. The Phillies are counting on Brown to make a significant contribution this season. (AP)
Posted: February 28, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Domonic Brown knows this is his moment.

He has been blessed with great talent and cursed with great expectations, set back by injuries and set aside by a franchise in constant win-now mode.

"I think I've been through a lot," Brown said Tuesday afternoon. About 90 minutes earlier, he had hit a baseball about as hard as a man can hit a baseball. It was a 2-2 pitch from Yankees prospect Zach Nuding, and it soared over the batters' eye that looms behind the center-field wall.

"Ryan [Howard] was just talking some trash to me about it," Brown said. "I didn't see it. I tried, but I didn't see where it went."

It was the kind of monster shot that fires everyone up, from the bleachers to the benches. In spring training, it's the kind of home run that raises hopes and expectations for a young player.

"It shows that it's there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's what he can do."

Brown has not been able to do it consistently at the major-league level. Over parts of three seasons, a total of 147 games, he has hit just .236 with 12 home runs and an OPS of .703.

"That stuff that I've been doing in the big leagues, that's not acceptable in my eyes," Brown said.

Brown has had a tough go. He reached the majors with a team that had no time for nurturing a young talent. When Brown scuffled two years ago, the team went out and got Hunter Pence at the trade deadline. Last year, after a poor spring, Brown was afflicted with knee and hamstring injuries.

In 2003, the 24-year-old Chase Utley came up to join a perennially mediocre team. He hit .239 with a .696 OPS. By 2005, at age 26, he hit .291 with 28 homers and a .915 OPS.

Dom Brown is 25. Pence is gone. There is no one in his way. There is nothing the Phillies would like better - or would help this team more - than for Brown to seize this opportunity.

He knows it, too.

"I wake up thinking about hitting," Brown said. "I'm trying to stay on the fastball. I'm hitting off the fastball and adjusting to everything else. That last couple years, I got off the fastball a little bit. Not trying to, just being a little long with my swing path. Now I'm hunting the fastball - just trying to take the barrel to the ball as quick as possible."

Brown has been working closely with the Phillies' new two-headed hitting coach, Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner. The latter, a lefthander who hit .289 with 204 homers in 16 big-league seasons, has really connected with Brown.

"Both of them have been great," Brown said. "With Wally, it just seemed like God sent an angel down for me."

A former Anaheim Angel, to be precise. Joyner noticed Brown's hands were twisting around when he brought the bat back. Now he's holding the bat a little more loosely.

"His swing is more fluid and compact," Manuel said. "It's more explosive."

Phillies fans were underwhelmed by the team's offseason moves. But that's at least partly because the team had conditioned its loyal followers to expect an annual blockbuster: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon.

It's easy to forget that the 2008 team, the one that actually went out and won a World Series, was mostly homegrown with a few low-wattage moves that provided big dividends: Jamie Moyer, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Pedro Feliz. Closer Brad Lidge was the biggest addition from outside the organization.

Since then, not a single position player has emerged from the farm system to make a significant impact on this team. A bunch of prospects have been traded away, mostly to add pitching. This would be a very opportune time for a player or two to break that spell.

Outfielder Darin Ruf has a chance. Cody Asche is a year away at third base. Catcher Tommy Joseph, acquired in the deal that sent Pence to San Francisco, crushed a home run Tuesday as well.

But there is nobody with more potential to lift this team than Brown. That used to feel like a burden to him. Now it feels like an opportunity.

"I'm excited," Brown said. "I wake up ready to come to the ballpark."


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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