The emotion was easy to see last weekend when the TV camera found Alec Bohm in the dugout with Didi Gregorius’ arm wrapped around his shoulder. Bohm dropped a foul pop-up that would have ended an inning. Instead, the inning rolled on, and the Phillies gave up two runs.
Joe Girardi has often described Bohm this season as “frustrated.” And for good reason. The 24-year-old entered June hitting .203, had hit into a major-league-leading 12 double plays, and paced National League third basemen in errors.
But Bohm looked more than frustrated on Saturday as Gregorius spoke to him. He looked despondent. It was easy to see when the TV camera focused on Bohm that a rough nine weeks had taken its toll.
“He gives everything he has. He’s frustrated,” Girardi said Wednesday before a 17-3 win over the Reds. “But who wouldn’t be frustrated? You hit .330-plus one year, and [now] you’re barely over .200. I don’t expect you not to be frustrated. I think I would be more worried if he wasn’t frustrated. But he’s working his butt off, and he’s trying to figure it out. He’ll continue to do that, and we’ll get him through this.”
The Phillies have pointed this season to Bohm’s contact rate, exit velocity, and the batting average of his balls in play. All those numbers, they said, indicated that Bohm was just unlucky. It would turn, they said.
Maybe it did on Tuesday when Bohm had three hits and drove in a run. He also made a couple of smooth plays in the field and helped turn a double play. Bohm, three days after Gregorius offered him encouragement, said Tuesday night was “refreshing.”
“The game’s not easy,” Bohm said. “There’s going to be struggles personally and as a team, and I think today was one of those days where everyone could take a deep breath, sit back, and kind of enjoy it and have fun.
“It’s a new month. Whatever happened the first two months is behind us. That’s kind of the mindset here. We’re moving forward and not looking backwards.”
Bohm hit .200 over 107 plate appearances in May despite having a contact rate (76.1%) and hard-hit rate (40.6%) that were better than the league average. His average exit velocity this season (92.4 mph) ranks in the top 8% of baseball, according to MLB’s Statcast. Yet his batting average on balls in play (.275) has seen the eighth-biggest decrease since last season among all hitters.
He has hit the ball this season as hard as he did last summer, but the results are different from his rookie year, when Bohm hit .338 with an .881 OPS. Bohm struggled for the first two months of this season, but there were indications as the calendar turned to June that he could find success. The Phillies hope that’s what happened on Wednesday night.
“If you look at what predicates good offense, he’s doing it,” hitting coach Joe Dillon said. “Obviously, there’s some frustration with him. He’s had some tough luck. … He’s hitting the ball hard and making decisions, and that predicates offense. Those things are what we know works and produces offense. Last year, I think he was lucky, and this year he’s been unlucky. I think he’s somewhere in the middle. I think it will normalize. He has to keep going. He’s doing the right thing. His work has been good.
“We show him the numbers, and, look, he’s in a group with some of the best players in the game for impacting the baseball. He needs to understand that he’s doing what he needs to do. To get hits here, you have to hit the ball hard. You just can’t control where it goes. We wish we could. They wouldn’t shift if we could do that consistently.”
Four months after he was drafted in 2018, Bohm used a piece of his first-round signing bonus to purchase a condo in Clearwater Beach, Fla. He wanted to make it his offseason residence, giving him a chance to spend nearly every day of the winter at the team’s Florida complex and work on his defense.
His struggles at third this season — Bohm has eight errors and minus-7 defensive runs saved — have not been for a lack of effort. The Phillies never expected Bohm to win a Gold Glove at third base, but they did think he had the ability to hold his own. It was easier last season to live with his shortcomings because of his offensive production. His struggles this season at the plate only made his defense more glaring.
Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, said last month that the Phillies knew “we weren’t going to be a real good defensive club.” But they expected that their offense could outhit their errors. Just like Bohm, the entire lineup ranked below the league average in nearly every offensive category in April and May. The defensive mistakes — the Phillies are the worst-fielding team this season based on defensive runs saved — became that much more obvious.
“Sometimes when you score more runs it kind of covers up an error,” Girardi said. “And when you don’t, everything is huge when you don’t score a lot of runs.”
The Phillies scored just two runs on Sunday when Bohm lost a pop-up against the white roof of Tropicana Field. So when his misplay allowed the Rays to score twice in the second inning, it felt as if the Phillies were down 20.
It was easy to see why Bohm looked the way he did when Gregorius wrapped his arm around him. A new month was just two days away.
“That’s the tough part about this world today where these kids are in. They’re under a microscope with everything they do,” Girardi said. “Usually, a lot of times if the veteran wants to have a conversation with a young kid, it doesn’t become news. It’s just a veteran being a veteran, trying to help a young kid through a difficult time when he’s struggling, that Didi has went through, and [Bryce] Harper has went through, and J.T. [Realmuto] has went through, and I went through more than I wanted.
“I think he’s handled it pretty well. I think he’s handled it better than he did last year when he went through a little bit of a funk. I think he’s been able to separate it better. ... It’s just growing pains and learning the position at a high level and the expectations being extremely high how you do it.”