Mets OF Beltran's return not set

SAN DIEGO -- Carlos Beltran expressed his intent Tuesday to begin playing in games in Port St. Lucie, Fla., within a week, although team officials cautioned that goal may be too ambitious.

"From what I understand, he's progressing very well," manager Jerry Manuel said Tuesday, before the New York Mets played the second game of a series against the San Diego Padres. "He's still in one of those situations that after he does something, you have to wait that next day to see if he progresses to a different level. But from what I understand he's on a nice track. When he'll start playing depends on how he feels on a day-to-day basis."

Still, Manuel added about Beltran appearing in minor leagues games: "It looks like soon."

Manuel also broached what could be a sticky situation regarding Beltran: Could he return as a right fielder if his mobility is reduced by an arthritic right knee? The Mets do have a quality center fielder in Angel Pagan, who was hitting .302 with four homers, 23 RBIs and nine steals through 179 at-bats.

"I'd probably wait and visit that," Manuel said. "That's not out of the question. It depends on how he's running. All those things are factors. I think, really, it would be something I would have to entertain with him, as to how comfortable he feels in one spot or the other. You just like to obviously get that bat in the lineup at some point -- someplace."

Beltran has started only five games in his career in a corner outfield spot -- all in 2000 with the Kansas City Royals.

And just like Mike Cameron, who moved from center field to right field when Beltran signed with the Mets, Beltran likely would not be enthusiastic about moving.

"We were here when Cameron and Beltran ran into each other -- two center fielders," Manuel noted about a horrific collision between the two at Petco Park in August 2005. "You have to be careful when you make that call that, 'OK, I'm going to send you to right field to limit your wear and tear on your whatever,' because a center fielder is a center fielder. He likes to take charge. He likes to catch everything out there.

"It's going to be interesting. It really will be interesting how that thing kind of manifests and kind of works itself out. But it's a good problem to have."

Beltran, 33, has started running the bases and is also catching fly balls. He underwent Jan. 13 arthroscopic surgery on his arthritic right knee, and subsequently returned to the Vail, Colo., doctor who performed the procedure to be fitted for a brace because a bone bruise continued to trouble him.

Beltran is in the sixth season of a seven-year, $119 million contract.

After playing June 21, 2009 against the Tampa Bay Rays, Beltran was shut down last season until September to rest the bone bruise in the right knee. Manuel noted that Beltran likely would need to be eased back into action when he eventually does return this season -- as was the case at the end of last season. Beltran played in 19 games during the final month of '09, but only once played as many as four straight days.

The manager also noted how shortstop Jose Reyes was slow to adjust to major league pitching this season after being away so long. Manuel reasoned Beltran might be susceptible to the same rust-related struggles.

"We're talking about a lot of time being missed at the major league level," Manuel said. "I'm just going to have to work him in slowly. So there will be days that he'll be off -- similar to what we did with him last year at the end. We'll probably have to follow that same plan to some degree."

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

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