WASHINGTON - When Domonic Brown's parents wanted him to take the football scholarship he'd been offered from the University of Miami, his argument to pursue a more risky career in baseball was simple.
"Just give me a shot," he remembered telling them and, eventually, they agreed.
That pretty much sums up Brown's approach to life. He is patient beyond his 23 years. He is confident. "I can't lie. I'm expecting to do well. That's just the person I am," he said offhandedly.
Just give him a shot.
He has been rated the Phillies' best prospect for the past 2 years. The path has been bumpy at times. After making his major league debut last season, he missed playing time when he suffered a strained quadriceps. He went to winter ball, but that didn't work out. He went hitless in his first 15 at-bats at the start of spring training and then, shortly after getting his first hit, fractured the hook of the hamate bone in his right hand. Recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley on May 20, he had just one hit in his first 14 at-bats. Since then, he's 10-for-20.
Just give him a shot.
Even in the Phillies' lethargic, 2-1 loss to last-place Washington yesterday at Nationals Park, it was clear that Brown's time has arrived. Even though he didn't start against Nats lefthander John Lannan yesterday, manager Charlie Manuel allowed him to pinch-hit against lefty reliever Doug Slaten in the top of the sixth with the bases loaded and two outs.
Brown ripped a sinking line drive to leftfield. Only a stupendous catch by Laynce Nix denied him.
Manuel has been coy on his plans for bringing Brown along, but it didn't take a lot of reading between the lines to recognize that he's about to get his opportunity to show what he can do on a regular basis.
"I figured Brown was the hottest, strongest, best hitter I had," the manager said, explaining his decision. "And I figured that might be the last chance we had. If it had to be off a lefty, I wanted him to hit. I thought about starting him. But he's going to play and he's going to play on lefties, too, at times.
"We didn't bring Dom to the big leagues to set him on the bench. We want him in the big leagues to get playing time. Will he play every day? Probably not. Because we're still monitoring him. But eventually he will."
Manuel was right about not having another chance to score. Nine of the last 10 Phillies batters went down meekly. The only exception was Jimmy Rollins, who reached on a bunt single in the ninth.
Granted, today will be the first open date the Phillies have had after playing 20 straight days. Granted, it's difficult to look lively when you only manage five hits and two of them are fielded by infielders. Granted, it was another oppressively hot day, with the temperature at game time officially announced at 90 degrees.
Still, the Phillies turned in a somnambulant performance. It happens. But when play resumes tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, there will be some turnover in the lineup that could help provide a spark.
Centerfielder Shane Victorino is expected to be back from the disabled list. And Brown is moving inexorably toward becoming the everyday rightfielder.
The idea has been to ease Brown into the mix and he's only had four at-bats against lefthanders so far this year. He said, though, that facing them doesn't faze him.
"Lefties keep me on the ball. I like to face lefties when I'm slumping a little bit because it keeps me front shoulder in and I don't drift off the ball. It's good to face them," he said. "I'm always pretty confident with lefties. I hit them in the minors pretty well. But this is a totally different ballgame up here."
Different because big-league relievers not only tend to have an extra pitch, a cutter or a slider, but can command it.
When he was going through injuries and slumps in the last year, opinions on his future fluctuated wildly with the sort of fans who react, and overreact, to each game or even each at-bat. Outwardly, at least, Brown displayed a remarkable equanimity.
"I don't get mad at all, or frustrated, because I do understand. I understand there are injuries and you're going to struggle. It just takes time," he said.
So, of course he would have liked to have started yesterday. But he's not going to get upset because he didn't. "I wanted to get out there, but I know my role. I just make sure I'm ready at any point of the game," he said. "I'm fresh here still. Anything can happen. It's a long season ahead of me. I'm ready for anything. Just going out and having fun. Whatever Charlie wants me to do I'm going to do."
All he wants is a shot. And it sure looks like he's not going to have to wait any longer to get it.
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