Brown not a concern for Phils

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and left fielder Domonic Brown. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Here's the great part about Jimmy Rollins occasionally holding a metal bat atop City Hall during a lightning storm:

The flash it produces often blinds us, temporarily at least, to some of the Phillies' other concerns of this enigmatic spring. Ryan Howard hit just his second home run the other day. Chase Utley is batting .196 with just one extra-base hit.

And then there's Dom Brown.

Until he doubled twice yesterday in the 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins, Brown had just six hits in 38 at-bats and had whiffed 13 times. Sidelined by the flu for three games last week, his average stood at .158 and included just one extra-base hit.

In previous springs, when Brown's at-bats were seen as a bellwether to the Phillies' future and/or a referendum of their front-office acumen, such numbers would have created the kind of civic consternation that Rollins' "Who cares" comment created a couple of weeks ago. There would be trade talk. There would be talk of hitting mechanics and holes in the swing, and each pitch that he missed or weak out that he made would be used as evidence of such, or so it seemed.

We are way past that now. Peaks and valleys aside, Brown's All-Star season last summer has bought him the kind of clubhouse comfort, despite his tepid spring start, that would have been unthinkable last year at this time.

"That's why I said last year to just give me 500 at-bats," he was saying in the Phillies' clubhouse yesterday, "so I can really show what I'm made of."

Positioned in a row that includes Howard and Marlon Byrd, Brown, now 26, carries himself more as a key player than a cast member. Stock answers that in the past carried him through doubt-filled interviews have been replaced by a more introspective appraisal of what he can do and what he needs to do.

All the advice he has been subjected to has been sifted through, some processed, some discarded. No one gets close to the major leagues without a plan at the plate, and Brown says his now is simply more refined than before.

"Myself, I usually take something out of an at-bat that's positive every single time," he said. "It might just be how I swung. But I take something out of every single at-bat that's positive.

"Because you can talk yourself into a slump, too. You come in every single at-bat talking about what you're doing wrong, then you're going to talk yourself into a slump. So I'm very positive now. Always. You know what I mean?"

What you notice is that he has become a tougher out in unfavorable counts. His second-inning double down the rightfield line came on a 2-2 pitch after he fell behind in the count. His third-inning double over the rightfielder's head - one of those signature line drives of his that looks like a Tiger Woods tee shot - also came after he battled back in the count.

"Nothing is for sure in baseball," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "But I like his attitude and I like the way he's looking right now. Talented player with a lot of tools. The potential is there."

There is his defense, too. "I think he's come a long way defensively," Sandberg said. And while that may be true, it is also true that he will never look natural out there. There was a bobble yesterday as he chased down a ball rolling in the gap.

"Grinding" is the word both player and manager use repeatedly. It always sounds funny when you see the man swing, run, or stand on that row that includes Byrd and Howard.

And that's another thing. Yes, this season is about Howard's ability to play and stay healthy and earning a high percentage of his $25 million. And yes, it's about Byrd continuing his baseball resurrection and earning his $8 million. But it's also about whether the touted homegrown All-Star, the one still making 1/50th of what Howard earns, can repeat his breakout season of a year ago.

"They're still writing down on the charts what Domonic Brown's weaknesses are," Brown said. "But I'm trying to change that every single day. I'm trying to get better every single day."



On Twitter: @samdonnellon