KISSIMMEE, Fla. What happened in the top of the 10th inning is the reason the Phillies are still high on Domonic Browns potential.
What happened in the bottom of the seventh and again in the bottom of the eighth are the reasons he will play at Triple A this season.
Brown slugged a long home run to right in the top of the 10th to break a 3-3 tie with the Houston Astros on Tuesday afternoon. The Phillies added another run in the inning, but the lead was short-lived as left-handed reliever Jeremy Horst, the pitcher that the Phils picked up from Cincinnati in the Wilson Valdez deal, allowed a single, a walk and a three-run homer to Brian Bixler as the Astros walked off with a 6-5 win in front of a sellout crowd that included a slew of Phillies fans.
Brown jumped a first-pitch fastball from Enerio Del Rosario and hit it through the wind for his first homer of the spring. It was his second hit of the day and the second hard-hit, extra-base hit he had in two days. He crushed a long triple to center against the Pirates in Bradenton on Monday. The two well-struck balls showed that Brown is fully recovered from the sprained right thumb that sidelined him for nearly a week.
The thumb injury occurred the previous Monday when the 24-year-old outfielder misplayed a ball in left field then dove awkwardly trying to make the catch.
Defense has been a consistent shortcoming for Brown over the past year. He looked rough in right field in the majors last season and has looked even rougher in left field this spring. The move to left was necessitated by the Phils acquisition of Hunter Pence in July.
Brown made two defensive miscues in Tuesdays game. He missed a cut-off man and was charged with an error in the bottom of the seventh inning. The error allowed a runner to move from second to third and that runner eventually scored on a two-out hit.
An inning later, Brown misplayed Carlos Lees very catchable line drive into a double. Brown appeared to take a step in then froze as the ball sailed over his head.
After the game, Brown talked about the adjustment process he is going through in left field. After years of seeing the ball off the bat from the right-field vantage point, he is seeing the ball come off the bat at a new angle, he explained.
Some of those balls straight at me are very difficult, he said. But Im getting better at them, I think.
Im not even worried about defense because I know Ill get better the more I play there.
Brown said his ability to have a good at-bat in the 10th inning showed that hes strong enough mentally to not let a bad day in the field affect his hitting.
I still want to be the man up there, he said.
Manager Charlie Manuel was pleased with the way Brown has swung the bat the last couple of days.
He hit a couple of balls real hard, Manuel said. When he hits the ball on the nose, he moves it. Today he hit the ball good. Hes got a chance to be a good hitter.
But how about the other half of the game?
He has to get better, Manuel said. I dont even like talking about his defense because Im sure he thinks about it enough. He knows he has to improve. If he makes mistakes, he makes mistakes. We just have to let him play.
Its imperative that Brown get better in the outfield this season or that the Phillies find out he simply cant play there because there could be turnover in the outfield as soon as next season. Shane Victorino will be eligible for free agency after the season and Pence after 2013. With a rising payroll and Cole Hamels staring at a huge payday, the Phils may have to make budget cuts in the outfield. They need an answer on Brown and they hope its positive. If it is, he could be in left field next season with John Mayberry Jr. a candidate to move to center if Victorino is not re-signed.
Whatever the case, Brown has a lot of improving to do this season.
And you can bet hell do it in Triple A.
Cole Hamels pitched five innings of one-run ball in his third start of the spring Tuesday. He allowed four hits, walked none and struck out four.
Roy Halladay pitches against the Twins in Clearwater on Wednesday.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com