Beltran to play Class A game Thursday

NEW YORK -- In a major step toward making his season debut for the New York Mets, Carlos Beltran will play his first minor league rehab game in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Thursday, general manager Omar Minaya said.

Per major league rules, Beltran can only spend 20 days on rehab, which means, barring any injury hiccups, Beltran will return at the latest right after the All-Star break. Beltran is still limping on his surgically repaired right knee, but the GM thinks he is ready to play in a real game after watching him work out in Florida on Monday.

"It gave me a lot of confidence," Minaya said.

Minaya declined to say the soonest Beltran could return, but played down the idea that Beltran could be back by next week in his home country of Puerto Rico. The Mets face the Marlins for three games in San Juan, beginning on June 28.

With Beltran on the verge of returning to the majors, Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel are devising a plan where they can bring Beltran back to center, while still making sure Angel Pagan, who has played well in Beltran's absence, left fielder Jason Bay and right fielder Jeff Francoeur all receive sufficient playing time.

Manuel made it clear before Tuesday's game with the Detroit Tigers that Beltran will not see any time on the corners. The Mets' initial plan is to have Pagan -- who can play all three outfield spots -- get significant playing time in left and in right.

"I've done it before," Pagan said.

Manuel thinks center is easier to play than the corner outfield positions so he doesn't see any reason to move Beltran, a former Gold Glove winner.

"I don't see that as clearly as everyone else does," Manuel said. "I kind of see him as a center fielder."

Manuel said that when he uses the four-man outfield rotation, he will try to relay to the players as much information as soon as possible so they can prepare properly. Manuel said he wants to keep each of the players' happy and playing well, but ultimately it is about the Mets.

"The key will be: 'Is the team having success?'" Manuel said.

Manuel thinks possibly having the four outfielders for three spots is better than the large chunks of last year when he didn't have many major league caliber players at times due to injuries.

"It is easier," Manuel said with his trademark chuckle.

Pagan has played well all season. He entered Tuesday night's game with the Tigers, hitting .296 with four homers and 31 RBIs. Bay was at .278 with four homers and 27 RBIs, while Francoeur started the night at .267 with seven homers and 37 RBIs.

In Francoeur's estimation, the fact that no one is struggling makes it harder.

"If one of us was flat out [stinking], it is an easier thing to do," Francoeur said.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.