NEW YORK -- Though Gary Sheffield's splits don't reveal it, the outfielder has a long standing distaste for baseball in the afternoon. Don Baylor, Sheffield's former hitting coach in Milwaukee, was the first to make note of it: Afternoon games just don't appeal to him.

So although he was not entirely smitten with manager Jerry Manuel's decision to bench him Sunday, his first day back from the disabled list, Sheffield fought the urge to complain. He was available to pinch-hit, after all, and by the time he was needed it would likely be mid-afternoon at Citi Field. There are worse fates.

"Maybe it's because I come in with sleepy eyes," Sheffield said of his reputation as a nocturnal player.

Maybe. But sleepy eyes were only part of the reason why Sheffield, back from his brief stint on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring, was not batting cleanup and playing his customary left field on Sunday. Simply put, the Mets are winning against right-handers, scoring an average of 7.5 runs per game in their past six games against right-handed starters.

Manuel saw no reason to alter that combination against the right-handed Jon Garland -- especially not on a wet field that could be perilous for Sheffield's hamstring. And so despite passing every running and hitting test the Mets have thrown at him, Sheffield -- who still leads the Mets with 10 home runs -- spent Sunday morning preparing to sit on the bench.

"If we feel that we're in need of that bat more than anything else, then we'll definitely have to try to insert him in there and give him a chance to play," Manuel said. But until then, he will pinch-hit.

Still, in activating Sheffield and designating third-string catcher Robinson Cancel for assignment, the Mets addressed one of their more conspicuous weaknesses. Needing a right-handed bat off the bench in each of the past two games, the Mets have turned to light-hitting backup infielder Angel Berroa.

Sheffield, in contrast, is both a powerful right-handed batter and a successful pinch-hitter -- in 40 career at-bats off the bench, he has hit two home runs and driven in 11 runs. He will have plenty of opportunities to play.

"Normally, when they say you're off the DL, you're going to play that day," Sheffield said. "That's what I was thinking. But obviously, [Manuel] felt that this is the best way to go about it, so I have to accept that."