BY Michael Obernauer

Friday, June 19th 2009, 8:55 PM
CruzJerry Manuel called what the Mets were cooking up Friday “a juggling act,” and if that didn’t explain it, a visual aid was provided. Around 4:30 p.m., Fernando Martinez was sitting at his locker at Citi Field, a packed duffel bag at his feet. Around an hour later, the nameplate above that locker read “EVANS 6,” and Nick Evans stood before it talking about how his season has turned around.

The Mets sent Martinez, their prized 20-year-old prospect, down to Triple-A Buffalo Friday and handed his roster spot and locker to Evans, a 23-year-old whose season has climbed from the depths of a monster slump all the way to his major league call-up Friday morning.

Martinez, summoned for his long-awaited big-league debut when Ryan Church went to the DL on May 26, lasted 18 games in his first stint and struggled, hitting only .194. With the Mets back home from a road trip to AL parks and Gary Sheffield returning from DH duties to a crowded outfield, GM Omar Minaya said, “If (Martinez is) not going to be playing on what we consider a regular basis, we’d rather have him playing every day in Buffalo.”

Evans, meanwhile, was one of the last cuts in spring training after an impressive exhibition campaign, but went into a nosedive once he was demoted, hitting .093 in 75 at-bats for Buffalo. After a stint in Port St. Lucie and some consultations with a sports psychologist, Evans adopted the mantra “don’t think” and turned his year around – hitting .276 for Double-A Binghamton, including nine multihit games in June. Manuel said he’ll try to fit Evans into at least a pinch-hit situation soon.

“I always like to try to get young players that come up at-bats, especially when they performing at the level that he is performing at,” the manager said. “It appears that he’s hot at this point.”

“We’ll see how long this is,” Minaya added, “because … Angel Pagan continues to improve.”

Pagan remains likely another week or two from returning from a groin injury, so in the meantime, Manuel has to decide who plays where. Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis have been sharing time at first base (Murphy was there Friday night against the Rays), but Evans is now “in that mix,” Minaya said. Evans could see action in the outfield, too.

“The whole key to his situation, and Tatis’ situation, really depends on Gary Sheffield, how he responds to playing positions on a day-to-day (basis),” Manuel said of the 40-year-old who hit .400 with three home runs while avoiding the outfield on a six-game trip through AL parks.

Before leaving Citi Field Friday night, Martinez said, “For me it was a great experience to be here in New York and play for the Mets,” and his manager said he won’t be away too long.

“What I saw in Fernando was a young player that I really believe can handle this situation,” Manuel said. “I really believe (he) is gonna be a part of us doing well, doing what we need to do at some point this season. I really feel that.”