Domonic Brown credits 'angel' Joyner for progress with bat


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 Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning recovering from stroke

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Phillies Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning recovering from stroke

National Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher and Phillies great Jim Bunning is recovering from a stroke, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bunning, who suffered the stroke Tuesday night in his Southgate, Kentucky, home, was moved from intensive care to a transitional care unit on Thursday night, per the report.

Bunning "has been provided skilled care that is leading him on the road to recovery," the family said in a statement Friday.

"The Bunning family wants to thank the first responders and medical personnel who have been treating dad," the statement said. "We sincerely appreciate the thoughts and prayers of all who are concerned about our father’s health. However, so we can focus our efforts on dad’s recovery, we ask the press to respect our family’s privacy at this time. We will let everyone know as his health continues to improve."

The 84-year old is one of two Phillies pitchers to toss a perfect game in the organization’s history. He accomplished the feat on Father’s Day in 1964.

Along with the Phillies, Bunning played for the Tigers, Pirates and Dodgers in his 17-year career. The righthander, who was enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame in 1984, won 89 games and posted a 2.93 ERA in six seasons in Philadelphia. 

After his baseball days, Bunning started a career in politics. He served stints in Congress and the U.S. Senate before retiring in 2010.

MLB playoffs: Cubs advance to first World Series since 1945

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MLB playoffs: Cubs advance to first World Series since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton Kershaw, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.

Lineup shuffle
Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.

Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.