For those of us who we're hoping for a healthy spring for the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., we may be in for a rough month.
Future left handed specialist Antonio Bastardo has been moving slowly and gingerly through the month of March and Chase Utley is nursing patellar tendinitis in his right knee, which was recently treated with a cortisone injection.
The Phillies may have received their biggest blow of the spring on Saturday, however, when rookie right fielder Domonic Brown learned his hand was broken.
It's been a rough spring for Brown, and at a glance on Saturday, things seemed to be improving. After going 0-for-15 during the first few weeks of spring training, Brown finally broke loose of that goose egg, hitting a solid single up the middle.
Once he got to first base however, it wasn't hard to tell he was in a good deal of pain.
During the previous at bat, Brown fouled off a pitch by Pittsburgh Pirates' starter Paul Maholm and the ball caught him square on his hand. He shook it off, not thinking much of it at the time and stepped back in, finishing the at bat and collecting his first base hit of the spring.
For that reason alone, it was surprising to see Brown out of the game for the next half inning, when John Mayberry Jr. took his place. A few moments later, Brown was seen jogging toward the clubhouse with Phillies head trainer Scott Sheridan right behind him.
After the game, x-rays revealed Brown had a pretty nasty break. He had fractured the hook of the hamate bone in his right hand. Believe it or not, the injury is quite common in sports—especially those that required the hands gripping something, like a baseball bat or a golf club. It is also called the "wrist bone" and is located below the palm and before the arm begins.
Though he'll likely need surgery, Brown is in good hands—no pun intended.
He'll fly to Philadelphia to see hand specialist Randall Culp—the same man who corrected Utley's torn thumb ligament last season. The recovery for the hand surgery is likely going to be four to six weeks, which answers the first "what's next" question for Brown.
With just 16 at-bats and a base hit to his name this spring, he certainly will not be the Phillies' right fielder when Opening Day rolls around on April 1.
Charlie Manuel made good on his word when he said Brown would see plenty of playing time and the young outfielder was quite the disappointment.
On the other hand, his main competition, Ben Francisco, has impressed this spring, making his claim to be the permanent right fielder by posting an early slash line of .421/.476/.947, with two home runs.
The way the two have been hitting, it's hard to imagine Brown was going to beat out Francisco to win the job anyway. His injury just makes the decision that much easier on the likes of Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr.
When asked about that right field job, Amaro told the media, "Nobody has won our right field job, but Ben has done very, very well for us."
With Brown out of the picture, things are beginning to fall into place. Unless something unfortunate happens, Francisco will be the everyday right fielder and John Mayberry Jr. or another outfielder will take his place on the bench.
Where does that leave Brown?
"He wasn't in a rhythm," Amaro said. To be frank, he hasn't been in a rhythm for a long while—since his call-up at the end of July last season. Amaro would then go on to lay the groundwork for the outfielder's future, confirming everyone's suspicion that Brown would return to AAA once healthy. Where does he go after that?
At first glance, two scenarios are developing for Brown and one depends on the success of Francisco as an everyday player.
As a right-handed hitter, Francisco brings a certain level of balance to the Phillies lineup. If he can play at an acceptable level throughout the season, there is no reason to make him split time with Brown. It doesn't do either of them any good, developmentally. However, that situation is indeed present.
If Francisco begins to struggle and Brown finds his stride in AAA, the Phillies could make a move to promote Brown and insert him into the everyday lineup, with Francisco returning to his role on the bench. The two could platoon in right field as well, which was the plan before spring training began.
On the other hand, maybe developing Brown for another full season isn't the worst idea. After the season, the Phillies are going to need another corner outfielder when Raul Ibanez's contract expires. Of course, this scenario would see Francisco develop into an everyday right fielder, giving the Phillies depth on the corners moving forward.
Francisco, who could play both right and left field, would slide over to claim Ibanez's spot and Brown would take over the right field job. In a perfect world, the Phillies would have successfully developed two major league-capable corner outfielders in this scenario.
Without having to spend money on the outfield, the team could address other areas of concern, namely shortstop, the bullpen and the starting rotation.
So when we question what's next for Domonic Brown, the answer is pretty simple. He'll play for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for at the very least a couple of months this year, and re-join the Phillies full-time by 2012.
Let's face the facts for a moment—this is an aging team that will need Brown for some life in the next couple of years.
Now may not be his time, but it's too soon to write him off.
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