Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A.J. Burnett suffers loss as Marlins edge Phillies, 3-2

Gallery: Marlins 3, Phillies 2

On Tuesday, when Domonic Brown's name was out of the starting lineup for the first time in 28 games, Ryne Sandberg said the struggling leftfielder could use a "mental break." The manager was noncommittal, however, when asked if that break could extend beyond one game.

The answer to that query came a day later, when Brown was back in Sandberg's lineup for the third game of the Phillies' four-game series with the Miami Marlins last night at Citizens Bank Park.

Brown's 1-day break didn't pay dividends.

With two outs and two runners on base in a scoreless game in the fourth inning, Brown badly misjudged a line drive, allowing the ball to sail over his head and to the wall. The first run of the game crossed the plate and the Marlins were on their way to a 3-2 victory.

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    After the game-changing play, ruled a hit since it never touched Brown's glove, Jarrod Saltalamacchia ripped a two-run double to centerfield to increase Miami's lead to 3-0.

    "It changed the whole game," said Brown, who apologized to pitcher A.J. Burnett after the inning. "I'm definitely upset at myself . . . It changed the whole damn ballgame. I'm definitely pissed about it."

    Brown, who has started 70 of the team's 77 games this season, also misjudged a lazy, shallow fly ball in the first game of the series, also a loss. A first-time All-Star last year, Brown isn't making up for his shaky defense with his bat; he is hitting .217.

    It's worth wondering if Brown is becoming his own worst enemy, in need of something more than a 1-day hiatus from the lineup. He's not in a 2-week hitting drought; he's batting .189 in a 51-game span since April 27.

    Entering last night, only three major league players with at least 275 plate appearances had lower batting averages than Brown's .217.

    Brown's .594 OPS ranked 114th out of those same 115 major league players.

    "Domonic is our leftfielder, as we speak," Sandberg said. "He's capable of swinging the bat. Every time he goes up there, I have confidence that it might be the time where he pops one and drives in two or three runs."

    Instead of supplying two or three runs, Brown was responsible for all three runs that Miami scored in the fourth, the only inning they scored. It was also the only dent on Burnett's pitching line.

    Burnett, 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his previous three starts, held Miami to five hits while striking out eight and walking three.

    "If that ball is caught right there, there are no runs on the board, it's the third out and A.J. possibly has good enough stuff to throw a shutout the rest of the game," Sandberg said.

    Burnett wasn't as blunt as his manager. He defended his teammate and pointed the finger at himself, too.

    "I look at things differently than that," he said. "I felt like I should have picked him up the next at-bat. That's what we do. You pick each other up. The pitch is a little bit lower to 'Salty,' then you pick him up. [Dom] plays hard. He comes in every day and prepares and he goes about his business. It ain't like he's trying to miss balls out there."

    Brown's return to the lineup wasn't a complete disaster. He cut the Marlins' lead to 3-2 with a one-out, run-scoring single in the sixth inning.

    It was Brown's 22nd hit this season with runners in scoring position. Only 21 major league players have more.

    Brown is batting .324 with runners in scoring position. But it's clearly been the only positive he can draw from the first 3 months.

    "It's just been a frustrating year for myself," said Brown, who was hitting .273 with 23 home runs and an .856 OPS when he played in last year's All-Star Game at Citi Field. "I mean, we still have 3 months to go, but damn . . . I've got to pick it up for sure."

    Brown's defensive play may have accounted for Miami's offense, but it was more of a team-wide effort that was responsible for the Phillies' latest game with two runs or fewer.

    In the fourth inning, Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd led off with back-to-back singles. But they moved no further, as Cody Asche bounced into a doubleplay and Brown grounded out.

    An inning later, the Phillies had the bases loaded with one out, yet cashed in just one run on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly.

    "We have to do the little things to win baseball games," Sandberg said. "Whether it's putting the ball in play to get a run in with the infield back, that's an offensive fundamental play; whether it's getting jumps on balls, that's fundamentals. I think overall as a team we've played good defense. But as far as doing the little things fundamentally with our pitching, with our bullpen, that's what we have to do on the offensive side of things and defensive side of things to win baseball games."

    On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21 

    Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

    Ryan Lawrence Daily News Staff Writer
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