It started innocently enough with a few questions about Ryan Howard's recent struggles and if they might be connected to his ailing left knee. Howard entered Wednesday with just one home run in his past 107 plate appearances. He is on pace to hit just 17 home runs with 77 RBIs this season, and his .735 on-base-plus-slugging percentage ranks 100th out of 163 qualifying players in baseball.
That clearly is not the production the Phillies need from their cleanup hitter.
Asked if Manuel could hit somebody else fourth, Manuel said, "What the [heck] are you getting at? Who's going to hit there? Let me ask you a question. Let me turn that around some. Write what you want to write."
Well, how about Domonic Brown?
"I could put anybody in there, OK?" Manuel said. "I'll do the managing. Whoever hits there, hits there."
But it must be alarming for more than just Manuel that Howard's production has been declining in recent seasons. The Phillies owe him $85 million following this year.
"Of course I'm concerned," Manuel said. "I'm concerned with everybody. Hey, look, I'm concerned with every [single] player I've got. Yeah, I'm concerned. I want to win. We say that we want to win the division and we want to go to the World Series, right? I'm concerned about every one of our guys. I'm concerned about that [.247] batting average. I'm concerned about that. I'm not only concerned about one guy, I'm concerned about them all. How about that? I don't know what I can do about it. I can go back to my room and sit there and look at the walls, and get up and come to the ballpark and look at the walls. I don't know what I can do about it. The only thing I can do is to put them out there and let them play."
Asked if he was upset about the offense or the questions concerning his offense, Manuel said, "A little of both, probably. We are inconsistent performance-wise. And when you've got that, it's hard. We won five games in a row, then we lose four. That's kind of how we've been playing."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.