Domonic Brown credits 'angel' Joyner for progress with bat

Domonic Brown credits 'angel' Joyner for progress with bat

February 26, 2013, 6:30 pm

Domonic Brown is 3 for 7 with two homers, three runs and a walk in the Phillies' first four games this spring. (USA Today Images)

Spring Training TV Schedule

Feb. 28, Braves at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 3, Blue Jays at Phillies, 1 p.m., CSN

Mar. 5, World Baseball Classic, 1 p.m., CSN

Mar. 6, Nationals at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 7, Twins at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 12, Tigers at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 14, Pirates at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 17, Orioles at Phillies, 1 p.m., CSN

Mar. 19, Yankees at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 22, Braves at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 26, Rays at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 28, Blue Jays at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 29, Blue Jays at Phillies, 7 p.m., TCN

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.

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