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Inside the Phillies: Brown seizes the spring

Winter ball over, the Phillies outfielder is working extra hard.

Domonic Brown has already been in Clearwater for 10 weeks. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Domonic Brown has already been in Clearwater for 10 weeks. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Domonic Brown repeated the words more than once as he stood in front of his locker Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm hungry," he said.

A deep-fried cheeseburger could not curb the kind of appetite Brown has right now.

The only thing that can make the Phillies' rookie feel full again is a job as manager Charlie Manuel's opening-day rightfielder when the team plays the Houston Astros April 1 at Citizens Bank Park.

At one point last summer as Brown ripped through the Eastern League at double-A Reading and then the International League with triple-A Lehigh Valley, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the franchise's best prospect would slide into the right-field spot vacated when free agent Jayson Werth signed elsewhere. The Washington Nationals backed the Brink's truck into Werth's driveway during baseball's winter meetings and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. responded by saying that Brown might have to start the 2011 season in the minors.

Two things made Brown less than a sure thing as the starting rightfielder. One was the way he struggled mostly in an unfamiliar reserve role after being promoted to the big leagues late last July and the other was his nine-game stint with Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, where he went 2 for 29 before returning to the United States sooner than anticipated.

All of a sudden we started to hear more about a possible platoon in right field. Amaro suggested that the time share might be between veterans Ben Francisco and Ross Gload, with John Mayberry serving as an extra outfielder.

Little did we know that as Amaro was speaking from his hotel room in the shadows of Disney World, Brown was 90 miles south already trying to quench his big-league thirst. Three days after returning from the Dominican Republic, Brown set up shop in Clearwater, determined to get into great shape and fix his swing.

Amaro said Brown was tired when he returned from winter ball. Brown said hogwash.

"I went down there and played pretty poorly, so that gave me a little bit of motivation," Brown said. "I'm not a guy at all to make excuses. I went down and played bad. A lot of those guys down there played the whole season, too, so you just have to go out there and work through it."

In retrospect, Brown believes his downward spiral in the Dominican will be a helpful step in winning the right-field job.

"Oh, it was a great experience," he said. "It was good to go down there and have some struggles. It has been a while since I struggled. It is good to go down there and struggle and get back to where I need to be. I'm hungry."

Exhaustion clearly was not the problem. He has been in Clearwater for 10 weeks, and both he and hitting instructor Greg Gross believe he has solved the swing problem that Brown thinks he developed while sitting through most of August and September.

"I wanted to come [to Clearwater] and work on my swing because I know I had a lot of kinks that weren't there before," he said. "Coming off the bench kind of messed me up as far as my swing and what I was used to doing every day."

Brown's main adjustment has been with his setup at the plate rather than his swing. He has lowered his hands in an effort to shorten his swing.

"It's not that far removed from where he was at the start of last spring and through his minor-league seasons at Reading and Lehigh Valley," Gross said. "In talking to people who had been around him . . . we noticed he had got really upright, straight up and down, and his hands were a whole lot higher than they had been previously, so what we did was we went back through tapes."

Brown said he has already grown comfortable with the new approach that mirrors his old one, but it will be the spring-training games that determine whether he is ready to be Werth's replacement in right field.

It sure sounds as if Manuel wants to feed Brown's desire. Even though Francisco and Brown both shagged fly balls from third-base coach Juan Samuel on Tuesday, the manager said Brown would play the majority of time in right field once the Grapefruit League games begin later this month. Francisco will get playing time in left, center and right field.

Manuel suggested that Brown could even get extra at-bats some days by playing in minor-league games.

If that's the case, Brown might be tired by the time the Phillies head north for the season opener.

For now, however, Brown's hunger far outweighs any fatigue.