Phillies' Domonic Brown in line to win outfield job

Domonic Brown has been called the biggest surprise of camp by Charlie Manuel. YONG KIM / Staff
Domonic Brown has been called the biggest surprise of camp by Charlie Manuel. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: March 09, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies clubhouse was empty when Domonic Brown entered Thursday. He dropped a red bag at his locker, packed his sunglasses into his case, and sat down. He had played eight innings, singled twice, scored another run, and made two outstanding defensive plays in left field.

It was March and the results were meaningless. But Brown was living up to the hype.

"I'm feeling good, man," he said.

No one will say Brown has won a job. With 24 days until the season opener, he is nearing that status. Uncertainty elsewhere in the outfield will help Brown's cause. He has done nothing yet to harm his chances.

When twice asked in recent days to identify his biggest surprise in camp, Charlie Manuel chose Brown. He said it again Thursday, with one added caveat.

"I've always known Brown to have talent as a hitter," Manuel said.

It's true. The manager has said Brown can be a special player in the majors. Manuel never admonished Brown for his lack of hustle. He was worried about Brown's health preventing him from ever being an everyday player.

Halfway through spring training, there are no signs of distress.

"I'm moving around much better," Brown said. "It feels good. I feel I can steal a base and do whatever I need to do for the team again. I'm out there having fun, making sure I'm having good at-bats and that my approach stays the same."

Brown, 25, has appeared in a Grapefruit League game every day. He is batting .400 (12 for 30) with a .514 on-base percentage and .767 slugging percentage. He has walked more times (six) than he has struck out (five). He has scored 13 runs, which leads all players in the majors this spring.

Can spring success mean anything later?

"It's good for someone who we think needs to show us something and make the team," Manuel said. "That's definitely good. At the same time, when the season starts, we're talking about two different things. That's very encouraging when you see somebody swinging the bat like Domonic Brown has been doing. I see some real big improvement out of him."

His fielding has improved with health. In the second inning of the Phillies' 10-6 loss to Minnesota, Brown sprinted to cut off a single in left-center, preventing it from being a double or more. He dashed to make a shoestring catch in the seventh inning.

Would he have made those plays last season? "No chance," Brown said.

Brown has played both left and right field this spring. For a player who was so far from competence at one position, being capable at two is a boon.

On opening day, Brown could man right field. The Phillies have said Delmon Young will play right field upon his return from ankle surgery. That would shift Brown to left.

Brown was hampered by injuries to both knees in 2012. The original injury happened while at triple A. Brown was moved to center field as a test for his focus. He ran backward to make a catch and instead of running into the wall, he said, he slid to stop.

"On the next play, I ran in, dove, made the catch and heard something pop," Brown said.

He played on that injury for a few weeks before an MRI exam revealed a knee strain. He missed time in the minors but returned with a knee brace. Soon, when compensating for the pain in his right knee, he developed problems in his left knee.

"I don't really think Charlie and those guys knew how badly I was hurting," Brown said. "But that's part of the game."

Now healthy, he has a goal for the spring.

"I'm not trying to take any days off," Brown said.

He will be in Manuel's lineup again Friday, and it is not difficult to imagine him staying there for good when the games gain meaning.


Contact Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com.

Follow on Twitter @magelb

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