Domonic Brown credits 'angel' Joyner for progress with bat

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Domonic Brown credits 'angel' Joyner for progress with bat

CLEARWATER, Fla. – This two-hitting-coach-thing might already be paying dividends for the Phillies.

Domonic Brown is off to a terrific start in the Grapefruit League, and he credits a tip from Wally Joyner, the team’s new assistant hitting coach, for some of that.

Early in camp, Joyner noticed that Brown had a tendency to wrap his hands and wrists around the bat handle instead of cradling it in the base of his fingers. Joyner suggested that Brown adjust his grip, and it has a created quicker, whippier swing. The quicker swing has resulted in Brown’s going 3 for 7 with two homers, three runs and a walk in the first four games. Brown also had a single and a double in an intrasquad game last week.

“It seemed like God maybe sent an angel down toward me,” Brown said of Joyner. “He showed me a little something then, boom, it clicked and I’ve been working hard every day.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Brown provided the highlight of camp when he launched a mammoth home run that cleared the batter’s eye beyond the centerfield wall at Bright House Field.

“That’s the longest ball I’ve ever seen hit here,” Jimmy Rollins said.

Sure, Brown’s home run came late in the game against a pitcher named Zach Nuding, who has yet to pitch beyond Single A. But it was still quite impressive, a cannon shot on a 2-2 fastball. The home run started a three-run rally that also included a two-run shot by prospect Tommy Joseph that propelled the Phillies to a 4-3 win over the New York Yankees (see story).

“Two-strike approach,” Brown said. “I saw a pitch up, took a good swing, and that was it. I knew it was gone off the bat. That’s all I’m trying to do -- hit the ball hard.”

Brown’s hot start is noticeable even beyond the stat sheet. The 25-year-old outfielder, always a spring-training focal point because of his tantalizing potential, appears more comfortable and confident in his third big-league camp.

“I think I’ve been through a lot,” said Brown, referring to the ups and downs of the last two seasons. “Coming in, I’ve been here before. I’m just going out, playing hard, trying to be fundamentally sound, and having fun.”

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 flip side to Brown is Darin Ruf. Last year’s minor-league home run king is competing with Brown for a spot in the outfield. Ruf is hitless in his first eight at-bats. He appears to be pressing and got a day off Tuesday.

It’s early -- very early -- in the exhibition season. You can’t read too much into Ruf’s struggles or Brown’s successes. But if Brown keeps this up, if he is ready to put it all together, club officials will be thrilled. They made him an untouchable in trade talks in years past because they thought he had the potential to be an all-star.

Brown also homered Sunday against the Tigers on a line drive to right-center. Brown said he hit that ball even harder than Tuesday’s bomb.

Manager Charlie Manuel is seeing more of a compact swing from Brown. It starts with the legs.

“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.”

Brown had knee problems last season. He worked a lot on his legs this winter and believes a strong base has helped his balance. And he’s also as strong as steel. Where once he was a 6-foot-6 stringbean, he is now 235 pounds of muscle.

Defense, whether in right field or left, remains a concern for Brown, but he’s working at it daily. In fact, he spent most of the winter in Clearwater working on it.

“I’m out there because I want to, not because they’re forcing me to do it,” Brown said.

Brown has a long connection with Steve Henderson, the Phillies’ new hitting coach. Henderson was the Phils’ minor-league hitting coordinator during Brown’s time in the minors. The Phillies added Joyner as an assistant hitting coach this winter and it turns out Brown has a connection with him, too. They went to the same high school -- Redan High School outside of Atlanta -- though Brown graduated in 2006 and Joyner in 1980.

“Both of them have been great,” Brown said of his hitting coaches.

So far this spring, Brown has been pretty good, too.

Phillies 'really excited' about prospect haul in Pat Neshek trade to Rockies

Phillies 'really excited' about prospect haul in Pat Neshek trade to Rockies

Pat Neshek became a Phillies trade candidate the moment the team acquired him from the Houston Astros in a cash deal in November. The only question was: How good of a trade chip would the right-handed reliever become? Ultimately, Neshek's performance would dictate that.

Neshek spent four months with the Phillies and pitched brilliantly. On Wednesday night, five days before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies cashed him in for three young prospects in a deal with the Colorado Rockies.

"There was a lot of interest in Neshek," general manager Matt Klentak said. "Just about every team in contention lobbed a phone call to touch base about Neshek, some more seriously than others. The Rockies were interested from Day 1."

The Phillies picked up Alejandro Requena, a 20-year-old right-handed starting pitcher, J.D. Hammer, a 23-year-old right-handed reliever, and Jose Gomez, a 20-year-old shortstop. All were playing at the Single A level.

Requena, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound Venezuelan, was 8-3 this season with a 2.85 ERA in 19 starts for Low A Asheville. He had 97 strikeouts and 25 walks in 117 innings and had held opposing hitters to a .239 batting average.

Hammer, a 24th-round draft pick in 2016, started the season at Asheville before being promoted to High A Lancaster in late June. Overall in 2017, he is 4-2 with a 2.36 ERA and 13 saves in 36 games. He has an impressive 65 strikeouts and .182 opponents' batting average in 42 innings.

Gomez had a slash line of .324/.374/.437 with four homers, 33 RBIs, 54 runs and 18 stolen bases in 81 games at Low A. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder from Venezuela was the 21st-ranked prospect in the Rockies' farm system by MLB.com. In addition to shortstop, he plays third and second base. 

"We’re excited about all three of the kids that we got," Klentak said. "Our scouting group really did a good job running all over the country, trying to get extra looks at these players. We’re really excited to pull this off."

Neshek, 36, was the Phillies' lone All-Star selection and worked a scoreless inning for the National League two weeks ago in Miami. With the Phillies this season, he pitched 40 1/3 innings over 43 games. He allowed just five runs and 41 of his appearances were scoreless. He did not allow a run in 21 2/3 innings at Citizens Bank Park.

"I'm actually relieved," Neshek said shortly after learning of the trade after the Phillies' 9-0 win over Houston (see game recap). "People have been talking about it since April, so it's done. I thought it was going to go until the last day. It's kind of nerve-racking.

"It's also bittersweet. I enjoyed my time here. These guys are some of the better guys I've played with."

Neshek joins a Rockies club that currently has a four-game lead for the second National League wild-card spot. The Phillies, of course, have the worst record in baseball.

"It's exciting," Neshek said. "You jump right into a playoff race. That's a great team, great offense."

The Phillies will add a reliever to replace Neshek in time for Friday's game against the Braves. It's possible that Edubray Ramos or Mark Leiter Jr. could return, but it also might be time to look at Jesen Therrien, the hard-throwing righty with the Brad Lidge slider. Either way, all three of these pitchers will be in the majors over the final two months of the season as the team makes changes and roster spots open.

Klentak said Neshek was the Phillies' most targeted player. Jeremy Hellickson will make his final start before the deadline on Friday night. He is expected to be dealt. There are enough teams looking for pitching and the Phillies are willing to pay down much of the approximately $6 million that remains on his deal.

The Phillies have two veteran bats available in Howie Kendrick and Daniel Nava, but both have health issues. Nava is on the disabled list with a sore hamstring. If he goes, it could be in an August waiver deal. Kendrick, who has been on the disabled list twice this season, took a pitch off the left wrist on Wednesday night. There was no fracture. He could still be dealt before the deadline, but the return does not figure to be significant. First baseman Tommy Joseph is another trade possibility as the Phils look to open a spot for Rhys Hoskins. Reliever Joaquin Benoit is yet another trade possibility but he won't fetch much of a return.

"I don’t want to handicap it," Klentak said of the chance of making more deals. "We’ve received calls on some of our other players, some more serious than others. Health will be a factor. As you know, Nava hit the DL today and Howie was just hit in the hand. We’ll have to see how he comes back from that. We’ll have to see. We’ll certainly be here, we’ll be on the phones, and we’ll be working as hard as we can to see what’s out there. But [the Neshek trade] is definitely the one we thought was most likely."

Best of MLB: Marlins score franchise-record 22 runs in win over Rangers

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Best of MLB: Marlins score franchise-record 22 runs in win over Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marlins leadoff hitter Dee Gordon homered on the first pitch thrown by Yu Darvish, and things got no better for the Texas Rangers as Miami set a franchise record for runs in a 22-10 victory Wednesday night.

Christian Yelich hit a solo homer in the first for the Marlins, and Marcell Ozuna's three-run triple in the fourth made it 9-2 to chase Darvish (6-9). J.T. Realmuto and Giancarlo Stanton later went deep, Stanton's 468-foot drive in the eighth being his majors-leading 33rd homer.

Adrian Beltre homered and had two doubles, giving the Rangers third baseman 2,996 career hits before he was ejected from the game while waiting on deck to bat again in the eighth.

When second-base umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis motioned for Beltre to get closer to the on-deck circle, Beltre instead dragged the large plastic piece marking the circle closer to him. Manager Jeff Banister also got tossed after coming out to argue the decision (see full recap).

Jays win on Smoak, Morales back-to-back HRs in 9th
TORONTO -- Justin Smoak hit a game-tying two-run homer in the ninth inning and Kendrys Morales followed with a game-winning blast as the Toronto Blue Jays rallied to beat the struggling Oakland Athletics 3-2 on Wednesday night.

It was the sixth time this season the Blue Jays have hit conseutive home runs. Smoak and Morales have been involved in each of the past three occasions.

Both homers came off A's closer Santiago Casilla (2-5).

Joe Biagini (3-8) worked 2/3 of an inning for the win.

Casilla's meltdown spoiled a strong performance by Athletics rookie Paul Blackburn, who allowed two hits in seven shutout innings. It also kept Oakland manager Bob Melvin stuck on 999 career wins.

Blackburn lowered his ERA through five starts to 2.25. He issued three walks, two of which were erased by double plays (see full recap).

Hosmer, streaking Royals pound Tigers
DETROIT -- Eric Hosmer matched his career high with five hits, including his first major league grand slam, and the Kansas City Royals extended their winning streak to a season-high eight games with a 16-2 rout of the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night.

Hosmer entered with 117 homers but had not hit one with the bases loaded until he connected off Warwick Saupold in a nine-run seventh inning. Hosmer had six RBIs and scored four runs.

Bruce Rondon was ejected with one out in the ninth after hitting Mike Moustakas on the back with a pitch, which caused both benches to empty. Utilityman Andrew Romine entered in his third big league pitching appearance and faced five batters, allowing a walk, RBI single, sacrifice fly, hit batter and flyout (see full recap).