WASHINGTON - We are now only one day away from what should qualify as the new normal for the Phillies lineup.
After Shane Victorino gets breakfast and a few more at-bats with double-A Reading Thursday morning, the centerfielder is expected to have dinner in Pittsburgh and join his teammates for the start of a three-game series with the Pirates Friday night.
It will be the first time this season that manager Charlie Manuel has had full access to the hitters he hoped would be available when the Phillies reported to spring training in mid-February. We'd like to report that this remarkable event caused Manuel to do somersaults and cartwheels in the visiting clubhouse, but a 2-1 loss to the lowly Washington Nationals in the searing heat led to a more subdued reaction.
"That's going to be good," Manuel said after his offense scratched out only five hits. "That's going to make us better. Just like when we got [Chase] Utley."
It took two months to reach this point, and three players have been given an opportunity to seize control of the right-field spot vacated when Jayson Werth opted for fame and fortune here in the nation's capital.
Fifty-six games into the season, we have a right-field winner.
His name is Domonic Brown.
The rookie did not get a chance to start against Nationals lefthander John Lannan in the series finale, but after he nearly delivered a go-ahead pinch hit off lefthanded reliever Doug Slaten in the top of the sixth inning, Manuel made it clear that he's ready to expand Brown's playing time.
"We didn't bring Dom to the big leagues to sit him on the bench," Manuel said. "We brought him to the big leagues to get playing time. Will he play every day? Probably not, because we're still going to monitor him, but eventually he will."
With the Phillies facing three righthanders - Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, and James McDonald - in Pittsburgh, Brown figures to get three straight starts against the Pirates. The Phillies will next face a lefthander when they open a homestand Monday against Los Angeles Dodgers veteran Ted Lilly. That would be a good time to give Brown his first start against a lefthander.
"He's going to play and he's going to play [against] lefties at times, too," Manuel said.
Brown is undaunted by the idea. In fact, he seems undaunted by everything.
"I'm always pretty confident against lefties," he said. "I hit them pretty well in the minor leagues as well, but it's a totally different ball game up here. Usually the lefties coming in up here, you know they have something special. They have a slider or a cutter, and usually in the minors they can't locate that stuff the way these guys can. I think that's the big thing."
Brown hit .313 in the minors with a .376 on-base percentage last season and he put a solid swing on a 1-0 fastball from Slaten, who was holding lefties to a .194 batting average this season. Only an acrobatic catch by leftfielder Laynce Nix kept it from being a go-ahead hit.
The rookie took the catch in stride, as he does just about everything. When the turbulent times of his recent past (including a broken hand suffered in spring training) were recited to him, he shrugged and said he knew injuries and failure would be in his future as soon as he made professional baseball his career choice.
"I know exactly what's going on and the situation," Brown said. "I don't get mad. I don't get frustrated because I do understand. It would be a different thing if I didn't understand what was going on. That's when the problems come. I understand there are going to be injuries and you're going to struggle. It just takes time."
The time for Brown is now, and he can thank Werth, Ben Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. for the opportunity. Francisco and Mayberry followed respectable Aprils by hitting below .200 in May. It's quite possible that Mayberry will play his next game at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Brown, meanwhile, has captured the fancy of his offensive-minded manager by hitting .324 in his first 11 games.
"We've been struggling offensively and we still are, and we want to be able to score and generate more runs," Manuel said. "We want to put guys on the field that we felt would be our best offense and we figured [Brown] could play a part in that."
The sample is still small and Brown has much to prove. Manuel remembered how Hank Blalock tore through the American League eight years ago as a rookie, but then lefties eventually "buried him alive" and ended his career.
The 23-year-old Brown doesn't see that happening.
"I can't even lie," he said. "I'm expecting to do well."