The Phillies traveled to Florida on Thursday night to open a three-game series on the road at Toronto. Huh? The Blue Jays, for the second straight season, are playing their home games in the U.S. because Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions are keeping them out of Toronto.

They’ll host the Phillies this weekend at their spring-training home in Dunedin, Fla. — just a short drive from Clearwater — before relocating in June to their triple-A home in Buffalo. Since 2012, the Phillies are 3-9 in Toronto. Consider them happy to be in Florida this weekend.

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— Matt Breen (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Fastballs are giving Alec Bohm problems in Year No. 2

Joe Girardi joked earlier this week with Alec Bohm that he should put Bohm in games after the second inning as a way to get his bat going. The manager left the struggling Bohm out of Tuesday’s lineup before inserting him late in the game, and Bohm came through with a key RBI double.

The Phillies know their chances to return finally to the postseason can increase significantly if Bohm is producing. They’re not desperate enough yet to bring Bohm off the bench every night, but it helped them for a night this week.

“It seems to work pretty well,” Girardi cracked.

Bohm was terrific last season as a rookie, but Year No. 2 has been tough. He is hitting just .216 this season with a .578 OPS and 39 strikeouts in 37 games. He followed Tuesday’s big hit by going 1-for-8 with four strikeouts in the final two games in D.C.

It’s hard to condense Bohm’s struggles to just one factor, but his struggles this season against fastballs have been glaring. Bohm, according to FanGraphs, is seeing fastballs this season on 58.5% of his pitches, the ninth-highest rate in baseball and a 7% increase from the fastballs he faced last season.

Last season, Bohm hit .337 with a .500 slugging percentage against fastballs, according to Statcast. This season, he’s hitting just .200 with a .318 slugging percentage against them. His whiff rate this season against fastballs — 24.1% — is nearly 6% higher than last season.

Pitchers are not shy to challenge Bohm this season with fastballs. He’s hitting .209 against fastballs in the strike zone, according to Brooks Baseball, after hitting .364 against them last season.

“I just think he’s in-between on his timing,” Girardi said. “As a hitter, you have to figure it out. That’s the thing about being a young hitter: Clubs are going to make adjustments to you, and you have to make adjustments. He’s perfectly capable of doing it. He’s had some big hits for us. We just have to get him more consistent and his timing better.”

Bohm’s struggles this season against fastballs become even more maddening when you consider what happens when he makes contact. His average exit velocity against fastballs is 92.8 mph, a tick faster than it was last season. He’s hitting strike-zone fastballs just as hard as he was last season, and he’s swinging more this season at pitches in the strike zone and swinging less at pitches outside the zone. There doesn’t seem to be a loss of plate discipline.

And his expected slugging percentage vs. fastballs is .495, nine points higher than in 2020. Girardi mentioned earlier this week that Bohm was hitting some balls hard but didn’t have any luck. There’s some credence to that.

“It’s frustrating for sure,” Bohm said. “You go back and say ‘Well, what more could I have done?’ For me, that’s kind of the next step in my process of maturing and becoming a true pro is handling it better. That’s something I focused on lately. Not focusing on the number on the scoreboard, but more so focusing on what I’m doing and controlling what I can control.”

Bohm’s bat helped him move quickly through the minor leagues, as he hit well at every level before reaching the majors last summer. He had been an excellent hitter since college, so his slow start wore on him. Bohm said he didn’t handle it as well as he should have and was working on staying positive.

Girardi gave him a day off Tuesday even though the Phillies had been off Monday. The manager, knowing how important Bohm is to the team’s success, wanted to give him a chance to reset. It worked for a night, but then Bohm fell back into his slump. It’s incumbent on the hitter, Girardi said, to make adjustments as opponents make adjustments to them. And he’ll keep Bohm in the lineup as he tries to find ways to adjust.

“I’ve gone through it a little bit in the minor leagues, but not when it’s this meaningful, I guess,” Bohm said. “We’re in all these close games. I really wanted to help. I think now I’ve got to just be myself and let it come.”

The rundown

The Phillies left D.C. on Thursday with a rare road series win, a consolation after they scored just one run in the series-finale loss to the Nationals. Scott Lauber has more about the team’s quiet day in Washington.

J.T. Realmuto is on the COVID-19 injured list, which might prevent him from playing Friday night. He felt sick this week in Washington, but tested negative for the coronavirus. His symptoms were enough to place him in the league’s safety protocols.

The Phillies will increase the capacity at Citizens Bank Park by 5,000 fans when they return home next week. The ballpark will open to full capacity on June 12. Also, tailgating is allowed again.

Important dates

Tonight: The Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., 7:37 p.m.

Tomorrow: Aaron Nola starts vs. the Jays, 7:37 p.m.

Sunday: Chase Anderson faces his old team in series finale, 1:07 p.m.

Monday: The Phils are off.

Tuesday: Phillies open three-game series at home vs. Miami, 7:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

Meet Lew Richie, the only major leaguer to come from Ambler, Pa. He signed with the Phillies in 1906 and became known for throwing the “serpentine ball,” a pitch the right-hander invented.

Kenny Ayres, a Phillies baseball communications assistant, recently published Richie’s biography for the Society For American Baseball Research. The serpentine pitch was said to break several times before crossing home plate and “was the nearest thing to a snake on the grass.” Richie unveiled the pitch in 1908 and posted a 1.83 ERA for the Phils. Richie was traded the next season and pitched in the 1910 World Series for the Cubs.

It’s an interesting story about a forgotten star from Montgomery County. Maybe it’s time to reteach the serpentine ball.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: How long does Realmuto have to stay on the injured list? — Dave C. via email

Answer: Thanks, Dave. There’s no minimum amount of time a player needs to stay on the COVID-19 injured list. Once players are cleared by Major League Baseball, they’re free to return. He tested negative on Thursday and will be tested again Friday. If he continues to test negative, then he should be back by Sunday, but there’s a chance he will return even sooner.