A steady rain fell Thursday afternoon at the scheduled starting time for the final game of the Phillies’ series against the Baltimore Orioles. The Center City skyline well beyond the outfield walls at a mostly empty Citizens Bank Park was made hazy by a light fog.
That dreary scene provided a nice metaphor for the state of the National League East’s last-place team that has been forced to start and stop and start again in the midst of a COVID-19 baseball season. The only discernible difference is that the fog engulfing the Phillies is much thicker and far less certain to lift any time soon.
The Phillies tried to brighten their grim outlook Thursday by adding rookie Alec Bohm to the roster and immediately inserting him into the lineup at third base. After a 99-minute rain delay, things only grew darker for the Phillies as they suffered an 11-4 loss that included a pitching appearance by Neil Walker in the ninth.
Bohm’s promotion needed to happen, but it probably would not have this early in the season if these were normal times. Bohm, who turned 24 this month, figured to be in the big leagues by August, but not 13 games into the season.
He never played an inning at triple-A Lehigh Valley, and there are no public reports on what he was doing at the Phillies’ satellite camp at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown. He obviously had to be doing well enough to warrant his promotion to the big leagues, but his plight was helped significantly by a number of things, including Adam Haseley’s trip to the 10-day injured list because of a sore left hand.
“With Adam Haseley going on the IL, that opens up some regular reps for us,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “Obviously it will be up to [manager] Joe [Girardi] to write out the lineup every day, but I think what you’re going to see is pretty indicative of what the next week or so will be like. Alec will play quite a bit at third. [Jean] Segura will move over and play some second. [Scott] Kingery will now help us in a variety of different spots, but notably he may need to take down some reps in center field.”
The two most-interesting aspects of the Phillies’ new-look roster are Kingery and first baseman Rhys Hoskins, a couple of badly struggling players who were supposed to be organizational mainstays by now.
For two years, the conventional thinking was that Kingery would be better-served offensively if the Phillies let him play second base on a daily basis rather than bounce from position to position. This was the year they finally decided to do that, and Kingery’s offense has taken a giant leap into the abyss. He has just four hits in 40 at-bats, and they are all singles.
Kingery had the lowest batting average (.100), the lowest on-base percentage (.163), and the lowest slugging percentage (.100) among baseball’s 166 qualifying hitters going into Thursday’s game. His .263 OPS was 81 points lower than any other qualifying hitter in the game.
Is he a COVID-19 victim?
We know the answer to that is yes. Kingery had the virus and was seriously affected by it in July. It delayed his arrival to that previously unheard of exercise that baseball called summer camp.
Klentak has no idea whether lingering effects from the virus have contributed to Kingery’s slow start, but he knows it is impossible to rule it out.
“He tests fine,” the GM said. “His strength is good. His energy seems fine. He’s not complaining of any pain. But … there’s not a lot of data and history of professional athletes coming back from COVID – and particularly like Scott, who had a pretty serious case. Sure we talk about it. We talk with him about it. We talk with our medical folks about it. I don’t know that we have perfect information to answer that question right now.”
They do not, but they had to come up with an answer on the field, and Bohm was the best answer to that question, even though he’s not a second baseman.
“We want Alec to play regularly,” Klentak said. “We think he’s that kind of player. It really highlights the importance of guys like Segura and Kingery being able to play multiple positions. You can have an injury to a left-handed hitting outfielder and call up a right-handed hitting infielder, and all the pieces can still work.”
It’s a stretch to say that, because Segura, who moved from shortstop to third base to accommodate the signing of Didi Gregorius, is off to his own sluggish start, and Hoskins is in the midst of his own monstrous slump that dates to the second half of last season. Girardi benched his first baseman Thursday.
The pieces don’t all fit, because only the middle of the order – Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jay Bruce, and Gregorius – have consistently provided offense this season among the regulars. Haseley, albeit without much power, was playing OK in a center-field platoon role, and Phil Gosselin and backup catcher Andrew Knapp have been really good in reserve roles. Two Realmuto homers accounted for all Phillies runs Thursday.
Those six have combined to hit .313 with 19 home runs and a .1000 OPS. The remaining seven players, on the other hand, are hitting. 176 with a .539 OPS, and a big part of that drag is the quartet of Kingery, Hoskins, Segura, and Andrew McCutchen.
Unfortunately, Bohm can only play one position at a time, and even more unfortunately he cannot provide any bullpen help. But the fact that he can be inserted at three positions – third base, first base, and designated hitter – gives Girardi some options to play the rookie almost every game.
How Bohm handles his introduction to the big leagues will be interesting and maybe the best thing to watch on this team other than Harper and Realmuto. Bohm opened his career with a double down the left-field line, so that was a bright spot on a dreary night. He struck out looking in the fourth, flied out to right field with two men on in the sixth, and flied out to deep center in the ninth.
“Even in the most normal of seasons, we have to leave open the possibility that a player could come up and struggle,” Klentak said. “It’s a big jump to go up from triple-A to the big leagues. We’ve seen that. Some players come up and don’t skip a beat. Others come up and have to find their footing a little bit. This being a more unorthodox season, we’re not quite sure. There really is no history to draw upon for how players respond to missing several months and then starting a season in an alternate site. So it’s hard to say at this point how that may affect Alec.”