- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CLEARWATER, FLA. (AP) - For all the hype about their pitching, the Philadelphia Phillies have a big hole to fill that another ace can’t plug.

Jayson Werth’s departure _ he received a $126 million, seven-year contract from Washington _ left the Phillies without a right fielder and someone to bat fifth behind slugger Ryan Howard.

Rookie Domonic Brown is considered the eventual answer, but he’s not a lock to open the season in the majors. Brown will get plenty of at-bats this spring to show what he can do. So will Ben Francisco. The two could end up platooning. John Mayberry, Jr., and veteran Ross Gload also are in the mix.

But Brown is expected to be Philadelphia’s long-term solution. He’s one of the top prospects in the majors, and was the one player the Phillies refused to trade. The team dealt 10 prospects in the past two years to bring Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia. Brown was untouchable.

Now he gets the chance to prove he belongs.

“I set big goals and high expectations for myself,” Brown said Tuesday. “We’ll see what happens. I’m going to take it if I start or if I start at Triple-A.”

Brown hit .327 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs in 93 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year. He hit .210 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 62 at-bats with the Phillies, mostly in an unfamiliar role off the bench.

Brown then cut short his season in the Dominican winter league after just nine games. He was 2 for 29 and wasn’t getting much playing time, so he came to Clearwater to work on his swing.

“He’s been down here longer than anybody, really,” hitting coach Greg Gross said. “He should do fine. He’s had success everywhere he’s been. I don’t see why that’s not going to continue. You have to have that. If you have a lot of talent but you don’t know how to use it or work with it or even work at it, then it doesn’t do you any good. I would say he’s in that category of potentially being a very good everyday major-league player. Now, obviously it has to transfer out onto the field.”

The 23-year-old Brown used his tough experience in winter ball as motivation. He wasn’t used to struggling and took a positive approach.

“I was in here not even a week after I left the Dominican because I wanted to get right to work,” he said. “I went down there to start back playing every day, and I knew there was something wrong that I don’t normally do. I knew it was going to take time, so I left and got right to work.”

Brown added 10 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame through working out and proper dieting. He also changed his unorthodox stance, lowering his hands instead of holding his bat high above his head. This has shortened his swing and gives him a better chance to hit inside pitches.

“I think that’s going to put him in a better hitting position,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “I just watched him in batting practice the other day, I think it’s going to help his stroke, his approach is going to be much better. Not only was he high, but he had a big wrap, and he’d have to make a real long cut to the ball. By lowering his hands, this is going to shorten his cut. He’ll come down through the ball.”

Replacing Werth won’t be easy. Werth hit .296 with 27 homers and 85 RBIs last year after a breakout season in 2009. He batted .268 with 36 homers and 99 RBIs and made the All-Star team that year. Werth also is an excellent defensive outfielder with a strong arm, and he has good speed.

Werth provided balance in a left-handed heavy lineup. He fit perfectly behind Chase Utley and Howard and in front of Raul Ibanez, giving the Phillies a needed right-handed power presence.

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