Jean Segura sat on the infield dirt Friday night as Alec Bohm’s errant throw rolled into the outfield and yet another defensive miscue unfolded.
The team’s fielding has been poor this season, but the struggles seemed to reach new lows in the fifth inning of an 11-3 loss to Boston.
Bohm cut off Andrew McCutchen’s throw from right field, despite the throw having a chance to beat Alex Verdugo to home plate. Bohm then fired to second instead of relaying home and his throw was wide of the diving Segura. It was Bohm’s sixth error of the season.
“I think there’s a play at the plate,” manager Joe Girardi said. “... It’s something that we will take care of.”
Two innings later, Bohm committed error No. 7, tied for the most among major-league third basemen.
The runners sprinted around the bases in the fifth and one even hurdled Segura as he simply watched the ball sit in shallow center. By the time Rhys Hoskins retrieved the ball by running 100 feet from first base, the Red Sox had scored another run. For a miserable defensive team, even this was hard to explain.
“I’m not sure,” Girardi said when asked why Segura didn’t chase the ball.
“It’s frustrating. It’s really frustrating. I believe we’re better than what we’re playing. We work on it every day and do things every day. It’s frustrating for everyone involved.”
The loss dropped the Phillies below .500 for the first time since May 3. They lost for the fifth time in six games. Aaron Nola lasted just five innings and the Phillies are now 14-14 when Nola, Zack Wheeler, or Zach Eflin starts.
“It’s going to turn around for sure. I believe in that,” Nola said of the defense. “But I have to do a better job of limiting damage and first-inning runs. I’m just giving up too much right now.”
McCutchen made an error in the sixth inning, giving the Phillies three for the game, and Vince Velasquez -- who was unable to pitch Thursday because of a numb finger -- pitched two innings of relief. Girardi was forced to use Chase Anderson, whom he planned to use in relief on Saturday when Spencer Howard makes his first start of the season.
“I’ll see if he’s available tomorrow. I’m not sure,” Girardi said. “You have to get through one day before you can worry about the next.”
The Phillies were challenged defensively last season, but they still prioritized offense this winter. And the results have been rough. The Phillies have the worst defensive runs saved in the National League and just one regular -- Odubel Herrera -- is graded above average.
“We knew we weren’t going to be a real good defensive club. But you hope that you can play well and catch the balls that you can catch,” vice president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said before the game. “I think we were doing that overall with blips and a bad game here and there. This has not been a good week for us. But I think we can continue to be better. They continue to put emphasis on it. The answer is I think we can get better. I think you need to make the routine plays.”
The Phillies assumed that their offensive production would allow them to stomach their defensive shortcomings. But the offense has not delivered. They rank below the major-league average in runs scored, wOBA, and OPS while leading the NL in strikeouts.
Segura hit a two-run homer in the third to tie the game, 2-2, but the offense was flat the rest of the way. Bryce Harper went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, making him 2-for-his-last-20 with 10 strikeouts.
“He’s just off,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen a ton of left-handers. I mean, a ton. I know he’s hit left-handers in his career, but obviously his numbers are a little bit better against right-handers in his career. He’s off. He went through this before. He’ll get it back. He’ll get hot again and he’ll do a lot of great things. But, right now, he’s off.”
The Phillies have scored four runs in their last three games and Friday’s 10 strikeouts was the 28th time in 45 games that they have had double-digit whiffs.
“I thought we would hit better, but I know in talking to other clubs I’m not the only one,” said Dombrowski, who noted that the league’s overall batting average is the worst in history. “Now why is that? But I thought we would out-hit some of our defensive miscues, but we really haven’t done that enough. Now can we? Part of it, too, is we never have our whole team together. It’s just been one of those stretches. I’m thinking OK we’re getting everybody back and something else happens to somebody else. I think we’ll have a solid offensive club for today’s world if we put everybody together. But that was more considered the strength of our club than the defense.”
There were questions about Bohm’s ability to handle third base as he climbed through the minors, but his bat quieted those concerns last summer. He was one of the team’s most productive hitters and never seemed overmatched. But the production has tailed off this season. He had two hits and drove in a run Friday but is still batting just .225 with a .591 OPS.
Bohm is still hitting the ball hard, but is struggling in Year No. 2 against fastballs. The Phillies are being patient with him, but his offense is no longer covering up his defense. The NL is likely to introduce a designated hitter in 2022, which could allow the Phils to move Bohm off third.
“I think there’s frustration in the young man on both sides of the baseball,” Girardi said. “I think you have to learn how to handle each one of them separately and continue to work. He works his butt off. He really does. But sometimes things can snowball a little bit before they get better. We have to get him to come out of it.”
Cutting off McCutchen’s throw allowed Verdugo to score with ease. According to Statcast, the throw was McCutchen’s strongest throw since May 2019. Verdugo was then lifted from the game with hamstring tightness, which explained why he moved so slowly from third to home.
“I don’t think there might have been a play,” Nola said. “I think it was probably smart. I mean, what I saw being right there I thought it was smart to cut it off.”
The third out of the inning still could have been made as Bohm threw to second base. Instead, Segura soon had to duck for cover as a runner leaped over his head as another brutal defensive sequence played out.