Manuel: Beltran back Monday or July 15

WASHINGTON -- Carlos Beltran's season debut with the New York Mets has been narrowed to two logical dates: Monday or July 15, according to manager Jerry Manuel.

Manuel said Beltran is scheduled to play back-to-back full games in center field with the Class A St. Lucie Mets this weekend. After that, team officials will huddle to determine whether Beltran is ready to be activated from the disabled list for Monday's series opener against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field, or whether Beltran ought to wait until the Mets return from the All-Star break on July 15 in San Francisco.

While Manuel suggested it would be a group decision, the manager said it would be illogical to bring back Beltran before the All-Star break if he's not going to face the Reds. The reasoning: There would be no compelling reason to activate Beltran for a series next weekend against the Atlanta Braves and then immediately have Beltran idle for three days during the All-Star break.

"Once he plays a couple of nine-inning games, he'll be anxious to get here," Manuel said. "But we'll have to make sure we discuss it and do the right thing for him more than anything else."

Beltran, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Jan. 13, is expected to return wearing a knee brace.

He began a rehab assignment with St. Lucie last Thursday, playing a partial game in center field. Beltran since has alternated between designated hitter and center field with the Class A team, ramping up his outfield play to where he is now playing full games. He has yet to play back-to-back days in the field, though.

Through six games of the rehab assignment against Florida State League pitching, Beltran is hitting .391 (9-for-23) with three RBIs and two walks. He has yet to attempt a steal.

"I feel better and better every day," Beltran said Wednesday, in a quote supplied by the organization after he went 2-for-4 and played nine innings in center field against Jupiter. "Since I have began playing in games, I have not held back. I have played hard, the way the game is supposed to be played. ... I'm reacting to the game and trying to make plays. I dove for the first time today and no pain. I'm not hesitating, just reacting and trying to make plays."

Manuel said that from his perspective, it's not important for Beltran to face Double-A or Triple-A pitching before being activated.

"The quicker you get to major league pitching, the quicker you're going to adjust," the manager said. "Going up to another level, I think that makes a difference for a young player."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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