Wally Joyner Deserves Some Credit for Dom Brown’s Breakout Season

Wally Joyner Deserves Some Credit for Dom Brown’s Breakout Season

How can a team that employs two hitting coaches – three if you include Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel – also have the 27th-ranked offense in Major League Baseball? There are no simple answers to that question, but we can confirm at least one of the instructors is making his presence felt in the lineup this season.

All of a sudden Domonic Brown is exceeding some of our wildest expectations. With eight home runs over the last nine games, he’s rocketed into first place in the National League, while his 40 RBI and .574 slugging percentage are fifth and sixth respectively. Brown was named the NL Player of the Week for the second consecutive week on Monday, and it was nothing short of a foregone conclusion he would then be named Player of the Month as well.

While Brown’s recent power surge has captivated baseball audiences across the country, signs of his meteoric rise from eternal prospect to All-Star outfielder actually began toward the end of April, after his batting average dipped to a season-low .206. Dom responded with multi-hit games in three of the next four, bumping that figure right back to .241, and he never slowed down since, now up to .282.

But if we really want to trace this success story to its origins, we have to return to Clearwater. A slow start caused people forget about Brown’s white-hot spring, where he led all Phillies players in runs and hits, and tied for the clubhouse lead in home runs and RBI. Even then it was evident there was something different about Domonic Brown this time around.

The reason for his transformation, at least through the eyes of Brown, was obvious: Wally Joyner.

Joyner was hired back in October as the assistant hitting coach to Steve Henderson, only now it seems like the real reason he was brought to Philadelphia was specifically to mentor Brown. The two of them hit it off right away. Matt Gelb, the Phils beat for the Inquirer, got Joyner to recall their initial conversations for a story back in February.

"I came in early and we started talking," Joyner said. "I just asked him to try a couple of things and he locked it right in."

Around the same time, Brown admitted to Sam Donnellon of the Daily News that he found an immediate comfort level with Joyner when pressed for impressions of his new coach.

"There's a lot of chemistry between us," said the Phillies outfielder. "It's not just baseball, either. It's on the field, off the field. Just making sure that I'm free. Mentally."

Common bonds

In retrospect, the similarities between the two were impossible to ignore from the beginning. Joyner broke into the big leagues with the California Angels in 1986 at the age of 24 – Dom is 25. Both are lefties. Coincidentally, they even went to the same high school in Georgia. Now Brown is bursting on to the scene in a similar fashion to Joyner.

One difference is Joyner was an instant smash. He was voted to his only All-Star game in his first season, helped the Angels reach the ALCS, and finished as the runner-up to Jose Canseco in Rookie of the Year balloting. Until last season’s trade deadline Brown had been pinballing back and forth between Triple A and the show since 2010, setback by injuries, later blocked by the trade for Hunter Pence, and never quite proving he belonged at any point.

Yet that doesn’t mean Joyner doesn’t understand what his protégé was going through, being a young professional athlete in a major media market on whom huge expectations are bestowed. When Brown discusses being free mentally, it’s hard not to apply that to the way he’s conducted himself in interviews during the past couple weeks – calm, thoughtful, graceful.

From what he told Jim Salisbury at camp, dealing with so much attention must have felt like a burden to Dom in the past. Some of the weight seems to have been lifted from his shoulders, whether it has anything to do with Joyner, or that’s just the confidence that comes with knowing his name was going to be on the lineup card every day.

Past springs weren’t fun for Brown. He got off to an 0-for-15 start two years ago then broke his hand on a swing. Last year, he came to camp and ended up being sent back to Triple A for more development time.

Brown admits that he “probably” put pressure on himself in past camps.

“It’s a lot to handle with [the media] and everything,” he said. “It takes a while to get used to. I’ve been going through this a while.”

The long and winding road

Joyner would go on to belt 56 home runs over his first two seasons in the Majors, although his pop soon fizzled, and he would only ever crack the 20 mark once more. That is where the Phillies are hoping the comparisons end. Joyner settled into a perfectly respectable 16-year career in the Majors, but the belief within the organization has always been that Brown could be special.

That is where Joyner has done his best work: helping Brown to discover his swing. The Phillies had already tried to reinvent Brown’s cut in the spring of 2011 under the direction of former hitting coach Greg Gross, but it had been a disaster up until they were forced to abandon the plan after the injury. Gelb painted Joyner’s tweaks as being a bit more subtle.

The changes were to Brown's hands, specifically, how he gripped the bat. At times, Brown would wrap his hands and wrists around the bat.

"We straightened his hands out a little bit, allowing his wrists to cock," Joyner said. "He's a big boy. He looks great. We want to take advantage of that size and leverage. That's one of the assets that Ryan Howard has. And he uses it. He has a lot of leverage. He stays behind it."

Whatever mechanics are behind it, Charlie Manuel sees the same thing as the rest of us – a compact, almost effortless stroke. Per Salisbury back in February:

“He’s got good balance,” Manuel said. “He’s slowed things down at the plate. He’s keeping his balance and catching the ball out in front.”

The real reason behind Dom's ascension?

There is one final aspect about Brown’s newfound power game that suggests maybe it was there all along. That wrist injury, the same one that derailed Gross’ own attempts at reinventing Dom, the same one that made him unavailable until deep into May and more or less led Ruben Amaro Jr. to trade for Pence at the deadline, well it may have been sapping his strength as well.

ESPN.com’s Keith Law has been quoted in the past as saying a fractured hamate bone such as the one Brown sustained in ’11 could take as long as 12-18 months to fully heal. Obviously players are able to come back much sooner, as Brown was only out of action for roughly three months following the injury, but it could be to blame for his relatively diminished power over the last two seasons. Brown hit 20 HR in 93 games between Reading and Lehigh Valley in ’10 compared to 8 in 101 appearances with the IronPigs over the next two seasons.

Brown seems more partial to the idea that Wally Joyner is the most important variation. Who can argue?

“He showed me a little something then, boom, it clicked and I’ve been working hard every day.”

At the end of the day, all that matters is the light finally came on for Dom, and he is turning into the player Phillies fans were told he could be – in fact, for the last month or so he’s been even better than what a lot of us ever imagined. Maybe a young player with all of Brown’s natural gifts could have figured it out on his own eventually, but it would be remiss to overlook the job Joyner apparently has done here.

Now if only he could do something for a handful of these other guys.

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to TeamRankings.com, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”