Three years ago, Scott Kingery started 89 of the Phillies’ first 107 games despite being one of the least productive hitters in baseball. Then, with the team in playoff contention and other options available to then-manager Gabe Kapler, he got benched for all but 27 of the last 55 games and made a total of 99 plate appearances down the stretch.
Alec Bohm’s 2021 was beginning to resemble Kingery’s 2018.
But rather than letting Bohm’s bat rust — and far worse, his fragile confidence erode — on the bench, the Phillies sent him to triple-A Lehigh Valley before Sunday’s game in San Diego. If anything, they probably could have done it sooner.
Keeping Kingery around was hardly the sole reason for his eventual downward spiral, and sending out Bohm won’t automatically cause him to finish developing into a good major leaguer. But it sure didn’t help Kingery, and it can’t hurt Bohm.
“[We] stressed things as simple as having fun and enjoying the game,” general manager Sam Fuld said. “What we saw last year was a player who had nothing to lose, and this year is a little different. He set some expectations for himself. The whole club had expectations for him. The city had expectations for him. And it’s harder to have fun that way.”
Bohm clearly wasn’t having fun. And not just since manager Joe Girardi benched him for seven of nine games through Saturday night.
The former first-round pick and Rookie of the Year runner-up last season batted .203 with a .551 OPS through Memorial Day, endured a home run drought that lasted for 184 plate appearances, and was the worst defensive third baseman in the majors. Girardi stuck with him, though, writing his name in the lineup for 81 of 88 games before the All-Star break.
Bohm would meander around the batter’s box after a bad swing or an umpire’s questionable call. He often had a hangdog expression in the dugout as teammates tried to lift his spirits after a strikeout or an ill-timed error. And that was only what the public saw. It wasn’t rare for him to chuck a ball into the outfield after booting it during pregame infield drills.
Given Bohm’s body language, it was fair to question his state of mind, especially over the last week.
“I’m good,” he said last Tuesday, his fifth consecutive game out of the lineup. “It is what it is. Everything is good.”
It’s difficult to say when Girardi fell out of love with Bohm, but Aug. 6 is a solid bet.
With sinkerballer Kyle Gibson on the mound for the opener of a three-game showdown against the New York Mets, Bohm was unable to stay down on a two-out grounder in the first inning. In the seventh, with the Phillies leading by one run, Bohm charged Jeff McNeil’s check-swing grounder and threw wide of first base. Girardi replaced Bohm with Ronald Torreyes in the eighth.
The next day wasn’t much better. Bohm fielded a chopper and took an extra step that enabled the Mets’ Javier Baez to beat out an infield hit in the fourth inning of a scoreless game. In the sixth, he couldn’t handle a tough hop on a grounder by J.D. Davis that went for an error.
A few nights after that, Girardi moved Bohm to first base in favor of the sure-handed Torreyes, a Girardi favorite from their days with the New York Yankees. But Bohm was unable to get his glove down on Corey Seager’s grounder through the right side that gave the Los Angeles Dodgers a two-run lead.
Bohm didn’t start again for six games. Girardi called it a “reset.” Really, it was a benching.
“You have to think about winning right now,” Girardi said last week in Arizona. “It’s not April 15. It’s August-something. So you have to think about winning right now.”
There’s a case to be made that Bohm could help the Phillies right now. Since June 1, he’s batting .291 and reaching base at a .359 clip, which outpaces Torreyes in that span (.251 average, .300 on-base). Maybe the Phillies could’ve kept Bohm around and used Torreyes or eventually Freddy Galvis in the middle innings of games when they are leading.
But Bohm is slugging only .342, 136th among 139 players who qualify for the batting title. And Torreyes is hitting .311 with runners in scoring position and gobbling up everything that’s hit to him, critical for a starting rotation that’s filled with ground-ball pitchers.
Bohm hasn’t started at third base since Aug. 8. He made 14 plate appearances in the last week and a half, and with first baseman Rhys Hoskins returning from the injured list and Galvis not far behind, he might have gotten even fewer in the next 10 days.
And so, for the sake of both trying to chase down the scorching-hot Atlanta Braves and Bohm’s confidence, he will report to Lehigh Valley this week.
Fuld sent him off with the names of a few players who went back to the minors to reset their careers after bottoming out in the big leagues. Mike Moustakas, for one, debuted with the Royals in 2011, hit 20 homers in 2012, but got sent down two months into a difficult 2014 season.
Later that year, Moustakas was the third baseman for a pennant winner in Kansas City.
The Phillies could’ve tried that with Kingery. Instead, they let him sink in the big leagues in the second half of 2019 and 2020.
Let that be a cautionary tale.
“A lot of good players and a lot of good comes out of this sometimes,” Fuld said. “I know that’s probably difficult for Alec to realize. I think this will be best for him and give him an opportunity to get regular reps and get him back to being the player we know he can be.”