In dismal funk, Ryan Howard sits

(Danny Moloshok/AP)

WASHINGTON — The manager's door was closed for a good 15 minutes before Thursday's game. Inside Charlie Manuel's office, there was no chance Ryan Howard would talk his way into the lineup.

"He didn't get to say too much after last night," Manuel said.

That was another hitless, three-strikeout performance, and the latest in failures that led Manuel to bench his slugger. Through 19 games, Howard is hitting .206 and has struck out in 36 percent of his plate appearances. That would lead all major-league hitters if Howard qualified for the batting title.

Judging by the way Howard spoke Thursday, there was no need to challenge the manager's decision.

"Right now, it's just, I'm in a funk," Howard said. "And there ain't no point in trying to hide it. Right now I'm not seeing the ball. I'm not comfortable. I'm not going to lie, I'm a little frustrated, a little flustered. So I guess it would be a good day for a day off."

He did not even take batting practice before Thursday's game.

Entering the day, Howard was 3 for his last 22 with 14 strikeouts. The Nationals started lefty Ross Detwiler, so Manuel saw a natural chance to rest Howard.

Howard refused to blame his slump on a shortened spring training to compensate for missing the season's first 84 games. Manuel disagreed.

"When you go to spring training and you get some at-bats — I don't know, 40, 50, 60 — sometimes all of a sudden you start getting tired. You start losing your swing but you'll come back around. That's kind of what it's all about."

Manuel sensed Howard's frustration during their meeting.

"He's kind of upset because he's striking out," Manuel said. "Probably has a reason to be, you know."

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