After big day, prospect Brown sent down

After big day, prospect Brown sent down

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Cole Hamels still remembers the March afternoon in 2004 when he struck out Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Clark in the same inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. And Ryan Howard still recalls the March afternoon in 2003 when he hit a first-pitch cutter off Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte for an opposite-field home run.

They knew then they belonged.

Phillies prospect Domonic Brown had his Spring Training moment Tuesday in a 6-1 victory over the Tigers at Bright House Field. He went 3-for-3 with two home runs and four RBIs. Brown crushed a solo home run to right field in the second inning in an impressive nine-pitch at-bat against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. He stroked a two-run home run to center field in the fourth against left-hander Phil Coke (a fan actually reached over the wall to catch the ball with his cap, but it counted). Brown fell behind 0-2 to Coke in the fifth, but he fouled off three pitches before poking the ball up the middle for a bases-loaded infield single.

Brown's reward?

He got reassigned to Minor League camp.

"[I'm] going down [Wednesday]," Brown said with a smile as he returned from manager Charlie Manuel's office.

Brown, who hit .417 (10-for-24) with two homers, eight RBIs and three walks in 11 Grapefruit League games, knew he would not open the 2010 season with the Phils, and he knows he needs more at-bats in the Minor Leagues. But he at least provided himself a nice memory on his final day of big league camp before he begins his season, most likely at Double-A Reading.

"I thought I was going down last week," Brown said. "I mean, this is all a plus for me. This has been great. All these guys brought me under their wing. It's a major confidence booster for myself. It's really taught me the hard work part of it. I'm really happy, but there's a long way to go."

Manuel changed Brown's stance before the game. He thought Brown, 22, might be too closed, which had him hitting balls from left field to right-center field. By squaring him up, Manuel thought Brown might start hitting balls from left-center field to right field.

"That's his strength," Manuel said. "Today in the cage, we squared him up at the plate. When he strode to the ball, he closed up even more, and he would go out around the ball and his bat would lag and he pushed the ball off it. When we squared him up today, he put a good swing on Verlander. And the second home run he hit, he made a good swing. He went through the ball. It got just a little bit deep on him, but that just goes to show you what kind of power he's got. He's going to be a good hitter. I like everything about him."

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Brown also learned Tuesday not to upset a stud like Verlander. Brown admired his second-inning home run for a moment before he started to run, and Verlander noticed. He glared at Brown as he made his way around the bases. He looked at Brown again in the on-deck circle as he left the game in the fourth.

"I thought if I got another at-bat, he might have hit me," Brown said. "He stared me down a little bit. That's no biggie. If he hit me, I'll just get on first base."

Brown had hoped to face Verlander one more time, maybe even take him deep again.

"It was a good at-bat, good battle," Verlander said. "It's funny how you don't know guys. I knew nothing about the guy. [Brown] was in [Class A] last year. It is what it is. You take it and learn. It was located well."

"Going into the season hitting off a guy like Verlander, you're going to have tremendous confidence," Brown said.

Hamels and Howard can relate.

"You so desperately want to do well up here," said Hamels, who had his moment as a 20-year-old. "I guess it's kind of that macho-ness that you have because you don't belong, but you want to feel like you belong. And when you do something as dramatic as striking out three guys or hitting two home runs, guys start to notice. And then you start to feel part of the group. It's a good feeling, because then when you do get sent down, you know that you've been able to succeed off Major League hitters. When you have those tough times in the Minors, you go, 'No, I've been able to do it off big league guys. I can get through these tough times to get myself there.' And for him, he's such a top talent. It's just a matter of time before we see him."

"It kind of tells you where you're at," said Howard, who had his moment as a 23-year-old. "It's kind of a measuring stick. Verlander is the proverbial ace of the Tigers. I think [Brown is] starting to see that he can play at this level. He's got his head on straight. I think he knows what he's capable of. I just told him, 'Continue to be patient. And when you get your opportunity, just seize it.'"

Howard knows about patience. For a couple of years, the Phils wondered how he might get to the Majors because Jim Thome had a big contract to play first base. They even played Howard in the outfield in Spring Training 2005, which didn't work. But when Thome got hurt in July of that year, Howard stepped in and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Philadelphia traded Thome in the offseason, and Howard has been a force in the lineup since.

Brown's path to the big leagues is more open. The Phillies have three All-Star outfielders in Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth. But Werth is a free agent after the season, and he could command a major contract. Ibanez will become a free agent after the 2011 season, when he is 39.

"The one thing I took away from having to wait was I knew that I wasn't going to be rushed," Howard said. "And that allowed me to kind of just sit back and make sure that I did what I needed to do, work on what I needed to work on, so that when I got up there, I wasn't going to come back down. [Brown] is not frustrated by everything. I think he's just trying to use it to his advantage and be patient."

Brown sounds like a patient man. Asked about the best advice he got in camp, he said, "Just be myself. Let my tools and my ability take care of the rest."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.