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.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).