Doug Mientkiewicz hit so well on a minor league rehab stint, he nearly was the Class A Gulf Coast League player of the week.

It wasn't exactly what the man who caught the last out of the 2004 World Series was looking for.

Mientkiewicz got out of the Florida heat and was back in the starting lineup last night against the Atlanta Braves. The slick-fielding first baseman, who has slumped at the plate in his first National League season, had been out since June 26 because of a strained right hamstring.

He was bothered more on defense, the biggest part of his game.

"Even when I did it, it didn't hurt to run that bad. But you start taking away my ability to stretch, it kind of limits what I can do," he said.

Mientkiewicz was hitting only .219 with nine homers and 24 RBI before getting hurt.

He went 5 for 10 with a home run and five RBI in four rehab games this week under what he called "equator heat" in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

That was nothing compared to the heat he saw from Gary Carter, a Hall of Fame player with the Mets who is now trying his hand as a minor league manager.

"He scared me to death," Mientkiewicz said upon his return to Shea Stadium yesterday. "He was yelling so much I said, 'I want to get off the field as soon as I can so I don't get yelled at.' "

* PIRATES SHORT-HANDED: Pirates OF Craig Wilson broke his left hand in the first inning of yesterday's game against the Cubs when he was hit by a pitch. Pittsburgh will place Wilson on the disabled list today.

-- From News Services

Doug Mientkiewicz has been out since June 26 because of a strained hamstring.