By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
What a difference a day makes for two players-newly-acquired Hunter Pence and
Domonic Brown who was sent back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley-seemingly headed in opposite directions.
Pence was welcomed and embraced by fans at Citizen’s Bank Park with open arms and several standiing ovations. After all, he is that “missing” righthanded bat that the fans, the media and Phillies management have been clamoring for all year.
In his first at-bat, Pence received a huge ovation from the crowd already in an uproar after Ryan Howard uncorked a solo-homerun to the ivy bushes in center field in the second inning of Saturday game against the Pittsburh Pirates. He still got a standing ovation after he grounded out from to second to first on a close call even though TV replays indicated that he was safe.
In Saturday’s 7-4 win over Pirates, Pence’s presence did help Howard, who was 4-for-4 with a home run, an RBI-double, and a run-scoring single and three runs batted in. He was a triple short of the cycle. Manuel said Pence gives Howard some much needed protection in the Phillies lineup.
“I think it will help him some,” Manuel said. “I think the biggest thing that Ryan has to do is to be more selective himself. He has to make sure that he can cut down on swinging at balls out of the strike zone. If he does that, that’s going to make the pitcher come to him. I think that’s what our fifth hole hitter brings.”
That certainly came to fruition in the eighth inning when the Pirates intentionally walked Howard with a man on third. Pence got his only hit in five at-bats and RBI of the game when he smacked a single up the middle to drive home Shane Victorino.
“It’s kind of about what I’m here for,” Pence said. “They intentionally walked Howard and that’s what I need to do. If they’re going to do that, we got to make them pay and make them pitch to the big man. It was unbelievable to watch him hit. Hitting behind him is pretty nice.”
Before the game, Manuel talked about all the possiblitities that Pence’s brings to a Phillies that hasn’t had a solid right handed hitter since Jayson Werth moved on to the Washington Nationals for a big paycheck.
“With a left-handed pitcher, we can maneuver our lineup better,” Manuel said. “Sometimes Ibanez will be hitting sixth or seventh. Sometimes Polanco will be second, sixth or seventh. Sometimes Victorino might be sixth or second. It depends on who’s pitching.”
For Pence, it’s the opportunity to play for a team that’s contending for a National League pennant. He talked about going from playing for a last place to Houston Astros squad to playing for a team that’s experienced the taste of a World Series title. For him it’s the difference between night and day.
“When you look around here, you feel like you’re in an All-Star game,” Pence said. “I think wins give you a different demeanor and you can see it in all the people around. The way it was going in Houston, the demeanor is rough. It’s hard on you to lose every night. Any competitor or person that plays, it wears on you. When I come out with this team, looking around I just go out there and try to mix in.”
Meanwhile, Brown headed back to the minors to refine his raw talent. Brown was sent d
own the Lehigh Valley to make room for Placido Polanco who was reactivated from the disabled list.
With the team looking to win a World Series in the here and now along with Brown’s share of growing pains at the plate and in the field, the Phillies organization is hoping that this trip back to the minors will allow him to play everyday while learning how to play a new position– left field.
“He struggled some defensively, but it was not from a lack of work,” said Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. “It was one of those things that we talked to Charlie (Manuel) about when we called him up. He’s not a finished product. I think he’s going to get better out there and he’s going to get more comfortable.
“It’s not easy to get comfortable in the major leagues when you’re playing for a contending team. It’s not a simple task for a young player.”
Amaro said the Phillies organization still believes in Brown and he believes that he has the tools to eventually be a solid player in the big leagues, but with the team trying to compete with teams like the defending champion San Francisco Giants for the National League pennant, the Phillies becoming a better team right now was more important.
“It’s going to take some time perhaps. I think he’s athletic enough that he’s going to be able to do that,” Amaro said. “We trying to do what’s best for him and what’s best for the Phillies.”
The night before it was announced that he was going back to Lehigh Valley, Brown tried to put a positive spin on what was going be another trip back to the minors. The tone of his voice seemed to indicate that the handwriting was on the wall.
“I understand that they have a lot of faith in me, but my goal is to be in the big leagues and be a big league player and that’s the bottom line,” said Brown, who went 1-for-5 with two runs scored in Friday night’s 10-3 win over Pittsburgh. “It’s a good possibility that it could happen, but I’m not going to bothered by (going back to the minors) you live and you learn and you grow.”
Howard said he could identify with Brown’s plight and how difficult it is to be back the minors after spending significant time with the big league club.
“This is definitely a tough time because you’ve been up here and you’ve gotten the experience up here. You have had a little bit of success, you’ve had a little bit of failure up here,” Howard said. “The biggest thing would be going back down there getting yourself right, getting your mind right to get back up here to stay up here.”
Manuel said there are specific things that Brown needs to work on both sides of the diamond and that he’ll work things out in time. He said Brown took being sent back hard, but he told him not to worry.
“I think Domonic Brown is going to be a good hitter,” Manuel said. “I think he has a chance to be a very a good hitter. (Friday night), he swung the bat good. When he’s smooth and he catches the ball in what I call the correct position out front and things like that. He has the talent to be a good hitter. He needs to work on his defense some. He’s got to learn how to be in the right position to learn how to unload the ball He needs to work on playing the game. . . .His position is way better than he thinks it is.”