It may be Domonic Brown's time

Domonic Brown gets a fist bump from John Mayberry Jr. (15) after hitting a homer in the ninth.
Domonic Brown gets a fist bump from John Mayberry Jr. (15) after hitting a homer in the ninth. (JARED WICKERHAM / Getty)
Posted: May 30, 2013

BOSTON - Charlie Manuel may or may not be managing for his job. Only Ruben Amaro Jr. knows whether he's planning to play the general manager's classic buying-time card.

One thing is for sure: Manuel isn't managing as if his job security is an issue. That may frustrate Phillies fans who want to see change - any change at all, frankly - that might shake up a zombified ball club. But it is who Manuel is, as a man and as a baseball man, and that's that.

The Phillies were whipped, 9-3, here Monday night. So Tuesday afternoon, Manuel wrote out exactly the same lineup. The only difference was that his 6-hole hitter, Domonic Brown, happened to be the National League player of the week.

Brown celebrated his personal milestone with a solo home run to center in the ninth inning. His 11th homer of the season gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead.

The award, and the home run, lent a bit of weight to the argument that Manuel should move Brown up in the lineup - to third, to fifth or even, gulp, to Ryan Howard's sacred cleanup spot. He is officially (.348 average, .783 slugging percentage) the hottest hitter in the NL, so why is he batting sixth for a team in desperate need of a spark?

The answer: This is how Manuel handles young players. He is managing with his eye on Brown's career development. As much as this team needs some wins, it needs a young, homegrown star even more.

"He has a chance to be a tremendous big-league hitter and hit homers," Manuel said. "What does he have, 180 at-bats? The more consistent he gets, he'll move himself where he should be. He'll let me know when it's time for him to move."

When a young player is having some success in a particular role, it may be tempting to change and expand his role. But it may turn out that the role is contributing to the success, and that changing it sets the player back.

"I've developed a lot of players through the minor leagues and the big leagues," Manuel said. "I've had some of the best players who have ever been in baseball. They'll usually let you know where they're going to hit. Utley and Howard did that."

Howard usually hit in the No. 6 spot in 2005, when he was the NL rookie of the year. He started out in the 6 hole in 2006, then hit fifth for a long stretch before finally settling into the cleanup spot that summer. Howard was MVP that year.

Chase Utley platooned with Placido Polanco in 2004, often batting fifth or sixth. He hit in those spots as he assumed the everyday second baseman job in 2005. By '06, he was batting second or third.

Having Utley-Howard bat 3-4 is so familiar, it is easy to forget those formative, pre-playoff-run seasons. It is also easy to forget that fans were calling for that nitwit Manuel to move up Utley and Howard in the lineup sooner.

They turned out OK. There is a chance Brown will, too.

"You've got to earn it with Charlie," Brown said. "I grew up the same way. I totally understand where he's coming from, whereas a lot of guys might not. Nothing's going to be handed to you. You've got to go out and work hard. If you're putting up the numbers, then you're going to hit in the top of the lineup. If you don't, then he's going to put you down there in the seventh and eighth hole."

That's only partly true. Manuel is going to write Howard's name in the No. 4 spot until his marker runs out of ink. He believes in the big guy and has been rewarded for that faith in the past. As Manuel said, it's a little late to be sending Howard messages.

But Brown clearly is close to earning that next step in his development. Things are a little complicated by the need to balance the lefthanded hitters - Utley, Howard, Brown - with some righties. But still, Brown is earning his way up to fifth or, with Utley out, third.

"He's headed that way," Manuel said.

The manager's sixth sense will tell him when the time is right. Not the fans, not the media, and certainly not the NL player-of-the-week award.


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

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