CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Charlie Manuel has noticed that Domonic Brown is getting a little more picky, and the manager likes it.
In addition to all the other improvements the outfielder's made, Manuel noticed recently that Brown was getting more selective in his at-bats this spring. The 25-year-old outfielder drew three walks Friday against the Yankees, and for the most part, he's swinging at good pitches to hit.
Part of that is just Brown's maturation, of course, but the rest of it is by design. It's a somewhat familiar refrain for the Phillies, but it's back again this spring: Manuel said he and his coaching staff have been preaching patience and pitch selection more often and more loudly this year, and he hopes it pays dividends throughout the lineup.
"That's real good to see, but I think also that comes from the fact that we're definitely talking more," Manuel said Friday. "We're always talking about things like working the count, getting good balls to hit, really look for balls that you can jump on, first pitch -- definitely fastballs middle-in, things like that. I think that's part of it."
The Phillies saw 3.79 pitches per plate appearance in 2012, down from 3.81 in '11, 3.85 in '10, 3.87 in '09 and 3.85 in '08. But the approach isn't so much about seeing more pitches so much as seeking out the right pitch. Third baseman Michael Young said he's noticed an emphasis on exactly that in his first year here.
"I think we've done a great job of making sure we really stay aggressive on balls in the zone," Young said. "With the talent that we have, if we make sure that we swing at our pitch, we're going to score runs. It's going to happen. We've done a really good job with situational hitting. That's something that they've preached early on in the spring as well. So those two things have been good, particularly because it's so early in the spring when guys are still trying to execute game plans and at the same time try to get their timing down. I think we've done a good job of that so far. It's good to see."
Manuel hopes that the message will finally take hold with his players, if only because they're hearing a unified message from so many people. It's not just Manuel and it's not just hitting coach Steve Henderson. They're hearing it from assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner and third-base coach Ryne Sandberg as well.
If the message sticks with Philadelphia's hitters, Manuel has reason to believe the Phillies' offensive numbers will be up across the board.
"There's power in numbers," Young said. "It's something where, if we talk about it as a team and continue to embed it in our approach, then we're going to be in great shape."
Lefties Howard, Brown power up against southpaws
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown did their best Sunday to further disrupt traffic on the part of U.S. 19 that runs by Bright House Field.
Both left-handed sluggers deposited a home run well over the right-field fence and beyond the confines of the part in the Phillies' 13-5 win over the Blue Jays, showcasing the kind of power that could make them both very dangerous if it carries into the regular season.
Even more encouraging: Their monster blasts came off left-handed pitchers, with Brown taking Toronto's Aaron Loup deep and Howard crushing a 1-0 pitch from Brett Cecil.
"That's a good sign. They've been throwing a lot of left-handers at us, which they always do and they always will," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Those guys, they've got big power."
Sunday was Howard's ninth straight start, and he'll be back in the lineup Monday against the Pirates. Manuel has been running out the former National League MVP every day to get him back in baseball shape, and it's working. Howard's hitting .417 with three homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs in 24 at-bats.
"He's swinging pretty good," Manuel said. "I think his legs are starting to get under him, starting to get over the soreness, working on getting in shape."
And Manuel is just as happy with Brown, the up-and-down prospect who's looking to stick in the Majors this year. Manuel has spoken often about Brown's more patient approach and the way he's slowed down his mechanics, stayed in a "strong hitting position" and avoided trying to muscle every ball with just his upper body.
"As we've talked about, he's got to get more consistent. So far this spring, he's really looked good, and his swing looks real good," Manuel said. "He's got good balance at the plate. He's catching good angles with his bat out front. That's when he hits the ball to the right side of the diamond, things like that. He looks real good right now."
Inciarte making strong impression in Phillies camp
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ender Inciarte showed up early for the first day of Spring Training. He was worried that he might not have a locker.
So the Phillies' Rule 5 Draft pick, who's never played above high Class A ball, came in as early as possible and ran into manager Charlie Manuel, who offered Inciarte a cup of coffee, even though he admittedly didn't recognize Inciarte's name.
"You should've seen him. He told me, 'I didn't want to be late. I didn't want to be late for the first practice,'" Manuel laughed Sunday, when Inciarte went 2-for-3 with two runs. "He was worried. You could tell."
Manuel may not have known Inciarte on Day 1, but the speedy outfielder is making a pretty strong impression in camp.
Inciarte, who posted a .307/.376/.421 batting line with 46 steals in Arizona's system last year, has three hits in six at-bats, three walks and a stolen base, in addition to several impressive grabs in the outfield. Manuel praised Inciarte's speed, but more importantly his route-running -- direct and to the ball, no zig-zagging or drop-stepping.
"He will get to play more," Manuel said. "I'll use him in all three spots in the outfield, see how he can do. We'll see."
Inciarte is a long shot to make the Phillies' Opening Day roster. The 22-year-old from Venezuela lacks experience, even in the upper Minor Leagues, and the outfield competition is tough enough without him. But he has experience in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he learned from established Major Leaguers like Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra, and he's out to make a case for himself this spring.
"I came here just to play hard, and I don't know if I have a chance," Inciarte said. "I just know that I'm going to play hard, enjoy this game, have fun. They are the ones that make the decision. The only thing I can do is play every game as if it's the last of my life."
"I prepare myself to do the best I can, so if you prepare well, you're going to perform well. I'm seeing good results, and I'm working hard every day to do that."
• Darin Ruf went 0-for-5 on Sunday, lowering his Grapefruit League average to .143. He made a strong throw from left field to home plate against the Blue Jays, but he's also mostly struggled in left field this spring. Manager Charlie Manuel acknowledged that Ruf's defensive woes might be affecting his hitting, but maintains that one strong game will get the 26-year-old slugger back on track.
"I think it's just a matter of time for him. When he's out there and he starts getting some work and starts feeling good about himself, he'll hit," Manuel said. "I think that's all the difference in the world. I think you'll see him come around."
• Asked if there's room on the Opening Day roster for both Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis as the club's utility men, Manuel responded, "I could see where that could work. I see where it could work because in the National League, what we want as our utility player and also what we want sitting on the bench and making our bench stronger, giving us a chance to rest some of our players."
• Most of the regulars will be in the starting lineup behind lefty John Lannan against Pittsburgh on Monday, including Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Michael Young, Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry and Ruf.