Brown's hard work has made him a feared hitter

Posted: May 31, 2013

IT WAS 4 hours before game time at Citizens Bank Park when the hallway that leads from the home clubhouse to the dugout was empty and fairly quiet, too. But the closer you got to the Phillies' indoor batting cage, the music reeled you in. First it was Aretha Franklin's "I Say A Little Prayer." Then it was a jazzier version of Otis Redding's "Stand By Me."

Beyond the sweet music of the greatest vocalists in music history was a more familiar ballpark tune: the sound of ball meeting bat.

Domonic Brown was in his office.

"He's strong, he's got a great lean baseball body and he's a worker," Chase Utley said, before repeating the last part for emphasis. "He's a worker. You put all of that together and, who knows?"

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Brown was named the National League Player of the Week on Tuesday. Along with a fancy sports watch, he received the obvious leaguewide recognition for his recent on-field achievements. From two Mondays ago in Miami to this past Sunday, Brown hit .348 with five extra-base hits, including two home runs, in a six-game stretch that ended before Memorial Day.

Brown may want to make room on his wrist for another watch.

He came into last night's game against the Red Sox with four home runs in his last three games, culminating with a two-home run night on Wednesday.

Brown has more home runs in his last 30 games (11) than he had in 116 games combined with the Phillies and Triple A Lehigh Valley last season (10). Brown had 13 home runs entering last night's game, one long ball away from the National League lead.

Only four major leaguers have more home runs than Brown in 2013: Baltimore's Chris Davis (19), Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (15), Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion (14) and Atlanta's Justin Upton (14).

The same Domonic Brown who hit .235 with five home runs in half a season with the Phillies last summer is suddenly the owner of one of baseball's most lethal bats.

"I've always been rewarded for my hard work," the 25-year-old Brown said. "My parents taught me balance when I was a kid and that with hard work everything would pay off. I'm just going out, having fun and doing what I always do. That's working hard."

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Hard work is a necessity, of course, if a professional athlete wants to have and maintain success. But there's another important ingredient: opportunity.

At some point early next week, Brown will have played more major league games in 2013 than in any of the past three seasons.

In 2010, Brown was summoned to the big leagues for the first time in late July when Shane Victorino was placed on the disabled list. After playing regularly for 2 weeks, Brown was banished to the bench for the final 8 weeks of the season. He made four starts in the season's final 49 games.

"When he got called up early, he was doing well, and then I came back and he ended up sitting on the bench," Victorino, now with the Red Sox, said of Brown, who hit .237 but also had a home run, two doubles and 11 RBI in 11 games while Victorino was on the DL. "For a young player like that's it's not easy sitting on the bench. I don't care how talented you are, you have to play, especially as a young player, you need to play every day."

In the midst of Brown's home run barrage this week, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged Brown's initial call-up and subsequent benching "maybe [was to] the detriment of his development."

But Brown was yo-yoed for each of the next two seasons, too.

In 2011, Brown broke the hamate bone on his right hand early in spring training. He was summoned to the big leagues in late May, only to be replaced by Hunter Pence and shipped back to Triple A Lehigh Valley before the trade deadline 2 months later.

In 2012, the Phils had a vacancy in leftfield - Juan Pierre and John Mayberry Jr. became the regulars - but Amaro thought it was best for Brown to continue to develop at Triple A. He stayed there until late July, when the Phils traded away both Victorino and Pence and two spots opened in their outfield.

In the end, Brown really got nothing more than another 2-month tryout in the big leagues for the second straight season.

Brown arrived at spring training this year with a UPS symbol-tattoo on his right biceps. The words around the tattoo spoke for him: "What Can Brown Do For You?"

He wanted a full-fledged opportunity, and his numbers in spring training (.356 with seven home runs in 30 games) both won him that opportunity and revealed a player motivated to prove his worth.

"It's motivation, certainly," Jimmy Rollins said of Brown's regular demotions in the last 2 years. "At the same time, when the organization isn't showing you any confidence, it doesn't matter if you motivate yourself. You go down there after being sent down the first time, you [hit]. After they send you down the second time, you go down and [hit]. What the heck do I keep getting sent down for? I come down here, hit .300. I go up there, play once a week and they say I can't play. It's hard to be motivated when you can only do so much."

When asked whether Brown is playing with a clearer head, given the regular playing time, Rollins continued with his pointed criticism of the Phillies' management.

"When you don't have to battle the organization, I think you become that way," Rollins said of playing relaxed. "He was never playing against anyone. It was just the organization thinking he's ready or not. Every organization has players like that, that they like, but, their fear is he's not ready. I'm the complete opposite. There's only one way to find out. Your opinion doesn't matter to me. Let me go out there, see if I can do it or if I can't. The numbers will show if you give me a fair shot."

Brown is getting that shot in 2013. He's hitting .267 and has 32 RBI, along with his 13 homers.

"I was just teasing [Brown] out there [in the outfield]," Victorino said during batting practice yesterday. "I said, 'All right, slugger.' He said, 'I'm finally getting the opportunity to play every day.' I said, 'Well, you earned it.' "

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Domonic Brown was batting .206 entering play on April 24.

In 32 games since, not including last night, he's hit .290 with a .915 OPS and 11 home runs. Brown's 10 home runs in May are the most for a Phillies player in any month since Ryan Howard hit 11 in August 2009.

In the marathon that is a 6-month, 162-game season, it may just be a hot month. Perhaps Brown's bat disappears in June.

But his May power surge is very real. Manager and longtime hitting coach Charlie Manuel has often said the last thing to come for a developing, young hitter is his power stroke.

It would appear that Brown's has arrived: He had five home runs in his last five games entering last night.

"That means hitting the ball correctly, hitting it out front correctly and knowing where the best part of your bat speed comes from," Manuel said when asked to explain his hitting theory of power arriving late for a young player. "Hitting through the ball, hitting the whole ball and going through it. It's when you're hitting balls to all fields, line drives and stuff, then it's a matter of catching it [out front]. The swing is an arc. You catch it at the start of the arc and that's what gets the ball in the air . . . That's where Dom is catching it . . . He has a very dominant bottom hand, and that's good. Whether he realizes it or not, that's what gets him in the position to hit the ball out of the yard."

A former high school wide receiver offered a scholarship to play at the University of Miami, Brown arrived in the big leagues with long arms, and with it, a long swing. It worked for him in the minor leagues.

"I would get away with it," Brown said, "because pitchers don't have that much movement. Up here, you have to shorten your swing up."

Utley, who lockers a few stalls away from Brown and studies film regularly, has seen the difference in his fellow lefthander's stroke.

"It's noticeable," Utley said. "I think he's in more control than he has been in the past. He's made some adjustments in his stance, where his hands are, and that's probably allowed him to be a little quicker to the baseball, shorter to the baseball. You guys are seeing the results."

Brown's swing has arrived, thanks to improved mechanics and a healthier mindset, too.

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"I think it's more mindset than anything," Ryan Howard said.

Howard sat out the first 3 months of the 2012 season recovering from left Achilles' surgery. Before returning to the Phils in early July, Howard played in four minor league rehab games with Lehigh Valley. He saw a change in Brown during his brief stay.

"I could just tell that he got it," said Howard, who also had to wait his turn in the minor leagues once upon a time because the Phils had an All-Star first baseman in Jim Thome blocking his path to the big leagues. "He understood what the situation was, what was going on. I mean, I saw a lot of myself in what I had been going through; I'd tell him my situation while watching him . . . Just talking to him, it was completely different. I could totally see the change he had made last year, from Triple A. He's playing free."

In July 2010, a few weeks before he made his major league debut, Brown was probably going to the plate with anything but a free and easy swing.

At the All-Star break, Baseball America came out with its annual midseason Top 25 Prospects list. Brown, then 22, was ranked No. 1, just in front of a kid a year removed from high school named Mike Trout.

In the last month, Brown has showed off the talent that warranted that ranking. But unlike Trout or Bryce Harper, Brown, more like Mike Schmidt, wasn't a finished product when he arrived in the big leagues.

"Just because you get to the major league doesn't mean you're [finished developing]," said Kyle Kendrick, who could relate to Brown's path. "The organization knows that, that's the main thing. The players know that. Every day you're working to get better. Players want it right away. But you have to learn and develop. Once you're there, you just try to keep it there."

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When his indoor session with Aretha and Otis was finished, Domonic Brown moved outdoors with his teammates for regular, pregame batting practice at Citizens Bank Park. He shared the cage with Delmon Young, Ben Revere and Erik Kratz.

As the session drew to a close, Brown dug in for his final swing, pulling his bat back and cocking it just behind his left ear. And then he unraveled a swing that sent the ball skyward.

The ball looked as if it would travel farther in height than in distance, too high to reach the seats. But it found a landing spot in the shrubbery behind the "401" sign over the fence in dead center.

Today on PhillyDailyNews.com : A statistical interactive that accompanies the Dom Brown story, charting his progress. Plus, another night without enough offense for Phils.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21 | Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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