NEW YORK - Before his team lost, 8-0, to the New York Mets - shut out by another knuckleballer on Tuesday night - Charlie Manuel sat in the visitors' dugout at Citi Field and laughed.

The manager was asked if he had an answer as to why the Phillies' offense, so potent at times, could be maddeningly inefficient in a week's stretch.

"If I had an answer to that," Manuel said, "I'd definitely correct it."

Over a 162-game season, there are bound to be times like this, perhaps not as pronounced. The Phils have not scored in 28 of their last 29 innings.

"We're getting outplayed," Manuel said. "We're getting outhustled."

But, as losing pitcher Jamie Moyer said, this seems to be a yearly occurrence for the Phillies. They go into slumps. Every team does. It's baseball.

That doesn't make this one any easier to swallow.

The Phillies have lost five of seven. R.A. Dickey, the Mets' knuckleballer, tied a career high with seven strikeouts in six innings - accomplishing the feat for the first time in six years.

The Phils stranded 13 men on base and left the bases loaded in the second and third innings. They have failed to score against an opponent's starting pitcher for 22 consecutive innings.

"I've seen it happen," Manuel said. "And it's going to happen some more. But at the same time, you don't like to see it happen. That's how it goes. I think about things I can do. I'll come up with something."

Could that mean benching a few regulars Wednesday?

"What's that going to do?" Manuel asked. "I think that 0 for 4 sends a lot of guys some messages."

So then what? Manuel was mum.

"It's pretty hard to sit there and watch when you know we can do better," Manuel said. "Our guys know we can do better. Go ask them."

Forty-five minutes after the end of the game, Ryan Howard was the only player in Tuesday's starting lineup to answer questions from reporters.

Howard said facing two knuckleballers in a row - something the Phillies hadn't done since 1983 - has had an effect.

"You're used to seeing guys who have everyday stuff like a John Lackey," Howard said. "But it's very rare you see a guy who throws a knuckleball. We've seen two guys who throw one back-to-back. That's even rarer. It's kind of like a Halley's Comet kind of deal."

Manuel disagreed, saying he didn't want to take anything away from Dickey and Tim Wakefield, the Boston knuckleballer who pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils on Sunday.

The team is lacking energy, the manager said.

"I think it could definitely be a little better," Howard said.

Here's the good news (if there is any): The Phillies won't face a knuckleballer Wednesday. But their scuffling offense may have more problems beyond being unable to hit the fluttering knuckleball.

When Dickey departed, the offense showed life facing a "normal" pitcher. Shane Victorino walked and Placido Polanco doubled to begin the seventh off lefthander Raul Valdes. That was quickly erased.

Chase Utley and Howard struck out. Then, Jayson Werth hit a hard grounder to third that David Wright made a diving play on to retire the side. In the final two innings, only two more Phillies reached base.

"We can play better," Manuel said. "We're supposed to play better."

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at 215-854-2928 or mgelb@phillynews.com.