Despite perceptions, Brown is behind only Utley in key stats

Posted: April 17, 2014

IF YOU'D LIKE to take a random sampling of what goes through the mind of a Phillies fan on a night when a game is rained out, turn to Twitter.

One fan's suggestion via Twitter to right the 6-7 Phillies: bench Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard, who have become "automatic outs" in the batting order.

Of course, any of us actually paying attention would point out that resting the guy who has homered in back-to-back games (Howard) is probably not the most strategic of moves. Bad timing, to put it kindly.

And then there's Brown. And this random fan isn't alone.

Whether it's sounding off on Twitter or to their favorite talk-radio station, a sizable contingent of fans never seem to be on board with Brown. He didn't hit much this spring (.185, 15 strikeouts in 20 games) and he entered the week in an 8-month home-run drought.

But here's the reality: Domonic Brown has been the Phillies' best hitter not named Chase Utley in the first 2 weeks of the season.

Brown enters play tonight hitting .304 with a .385 on-base percentage. Utley is the only player on the Phillies' roster with better numbers (.489, .549), and Utley also leads all of baseball in those two categories.

"I've just been trying to do whatever I can for the team," said Brown, who hit his first home run in 154 plate appearances on Monday night, an eighth-inning, three-run, go-ahead homer to right-center. "I'm not worried about home runs as long as we're winning."

Brown's home run put the Phillies three outs away from a win and jumping over the .500 mark for the first time since the first weekend of the season.

Brown has hit safely in 10 of his 12 starts. He's scored or driven in a run in eight of his 12 starts.

If there is any knock on his game after 2 weeks, it's that Brown has three extra-base hits in 52 plate appearances.

But after his breakout 2013 season, when Brown hit 21 home runs before July en route to his first All-Star Game appearance, Brown has seen pitchers attacking him with more offspeed stuff, while also favoring the outer half of the plate. Brown has responded by taking the ball to the opposite field.

"I think it's important for him right now to take what the pitchers give him," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He was an All-Star last year, so everyone knows him and what he can do. Right now, he's in a groove where if they don't throw him good pitches, he takes the walk, and if they pitch him away, he takes the hit to leftfield. That's taking what the pitcher gives you. He happened to get one middle-in [Monday night] and turned on it. I think that's a good combination he has going on."

Yes, Brown, who hit 27 home runs last season, has only one through the season's first 2 weeks. Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki and Hunter Pence also entered yesterday with one home run, and you can place a pretty good bet that none of their respective fans is calling for those players to sit on the bench for a game or two.

Brown's power didn't emerge until his final at-bat Monday night, but his .798 OPS is third among Phillies regulars, behind Utley (1.393) and Jimmy Rollins (.844).

"The fact that he's showing patience and making the pitchers come to him is giving him a chance to get big hits," Sandberg said.

Rainout adjustments

Thanks to last night's rainout, the Phillies had the option to shuffle their rotation this week and skip A.J. Burnett's scheduled turn. Burnett was diagnosed with a inguinal hernia on Monday and was set to pitch on his regular turn tonight.

But the team will go on with its starting pitchers as scheduled, with last night's starter, Cliff Lee, pitching tonight against the Braves and Burnett following in the finale of the 10-game homestand tomorrow afternoon against Atlanta.

"Everyone will get an extra day," Sandberg said.

With the way the rotation falls, Burnett could get an extra day of rest for a second straight start next week. Lefthander Cole Hamels will make his next minor league rehab start at Class A Clearwater tomorrow; he could jump into the Phillies' rotation as early as next Tuesday in Los Angeles, on Burnett's scheduled day to pitch.

The only reason the Phillies could choose to give Hamels that extra day instead of Burnett is that it would split the lefthanders (Hamels and Lee) in the rotation. Lee is on tap to start the first game of the four-game series at Dodger Stadium on Monday.

Phillers

Entering last night's slate of games, the Phillies' offense ranked second in baseball with a .351 OBP; the Chicago White Sox, at .356, are atop the list. In 2013, the Phils' offense had a .306 OBP - only four major league teams had lower marks. One of those teams was the White Sox (.302) . . . Another mild surprise: Ryan Howard enters play tonight with a team-leading nine walks. Entering last night, Howard was three behind Cincinnati's Jay Bruce for the NL lead. Howard also has a team-leading 18 strikeouts (six behind Miami's Garrett Jones for the NL lead). After 13 games, 46.6 percent of Howard's plate appearances (27 of 58) have ended with a walk or strikeout . . . According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jake Diekman had allowed the second fewest home runs since making his major league debut (May 15, 2012) before serving up Dan Uggla's grand slam on Monday. Diekman has given up two home runs in 84 games (72 innings) since his big-league debut. The only pitcher to allow fewer in that time, with a minimum of 84 games: Randy Choate, who allowed one home run in 69 innings.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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