SAN DIEGO - He had watched the Phillies score two runs with 21 baserunners in 18 innings against the National League's worst team, and finally, Charlie Manuel was willing to admit what the rest of the Philadelphia region already had deduced.
"It's been a while," Manuel said, "since we've played this bad."
The realization came after 2 hours and 18 minutes of repugnant baseball resulted in a 6-1 loss to the San Diego Padres and pushed the Phillies further into last place. Manuel sat in the small visiting manager's office at Petco Park and offered a candid assessment of his team after 16 mostly forgettable games.
"This is a test," Manuel said. ". . . It's a test for the manager, the coaching staff, and the players. It's a test for everybody. I see guys I think are trying too hard. They just need to relax and play like we can."
The manager did not address his players Sunday afternoon. As the players dressed for their charter flight to Phoenix, where this season-long trip will end, Manuel sauntered through the clubhouse. "I took my time," he said.
"It's not time for me to say anything yet," Manuel added. "Tomorrow might be the day. I don't know. Right now, I looked at it, and I wanted to think about it. I'm sure they want to think about it, too. We have guys there who definitely want to play hard. Maybe we just need to get back to square one and relax and totally enjoy playing like we can."
But there are limitations, specifically in the makeup of the current roster. The Phillies have scored two or fewer runs in 10 of their first 16 games. Entering play Sunday, they had swung at more pitches out of the strike zone (34 percent) than any other team in baseball.
Manuel had posited in spring training that it would take only two guys with hot bats at any given time to power the offense. Finding one has proved to be a great challenge.
"We're going to test our fortitude," Hunter Pence said, "and we're going to test our resolve right here."
Pence is the poster child for Manuel's description of pressing players. He is asked to hit cleanup in a Phillies lineup without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. He has never hit more than 25 home runs in a season but swings for the fences just about every time he steps to the plate. On Sunday, it resulted in four ground balls that produced five outs. He is 5 for 27 on the trip and 0 for his last 15.
In the field, Pence misjudged a fly ball in the first inning that led to a Padres run, and probably another. In the third, he dove for a Nick Hundley fly ball that skipped past him for a triple to score a run. Hundley then scored when Jim Thome, making his fourth start at first base in six years, committed a throwing error.
"I screwed that play up," Thome said.
The game was effectively decided in the first inning. Padres starter Anthony Bass, who had all of five career major-league starts before Sunday, could not throw strikes. He walked Juan Pierre, who subsequently was picked off first. After another walk, his first baseman, Yonder Alonso, committed two errors on one play. With runners on second and third, Pence grounded weakly to third. Thome struck out swinging.
"That shows that we are pressing," Manuel said. "We're trying too hard or trying to do too much."
In the bottom half of the inning, Joe Blanton threw six total pitches and the Padres scored twice. Will Venable swung at the first pitch and singled. Mark Kotsay dribbled the first pitch he saw back to Blanton, who was thinking two. Instead, the ball tapped off his glove and everyone was safe. Chase Headley hit the ball over Pence's head and Hundley hit a sacrifice fly.
The Phillies have played one-tenth of the 2012 season. Manuel again cautioned against making snap judgments. But the malaise is enough for the manager to start wondering.
"We have to play better than that," Manuel said. "That's a must."