Mets expect July 15 return for Beltran

WASHINGTON -- The New York Mets have zeroed in on July 15 for Carlos Beltran's first game this season at the major league level, manager Jerry Manuel said Saturday.

Beltran, who had Jan. 13 arthroscopic surgery on his arthritic right knee, is expected to join the Mets in San Francisco when the team resumes play after the All-Star break.

A day earlier, Manuel had presented the alternate possibility of Beltran rejoining the Mets on Monday, when the final first-half homestand opens with a series against the Cincinnati Reds. The manager now says the Mets will treat Beltran cautiously.

The end of Beltran's allowable 20-day rehab assignment in the minor leagues coincides with the Mets opening the second half against the Giants.
Beltran was due to play full back-to-back games in center field for the first time with Class A St. Lucie on Friday and Saturday, but the beginning of that test was delayed because of wet fields in Fort Myers, Fla., assistant GM John Ricco said.

In seven games with St. Lucie since joining the Florida State League club on June 24, Beltran is hitting .423 (11-for-26) with three doubles and four RBIs while splitting time between DH and center field.

"He wants to play. He wants to be with the team," Manuel said. "But I think from an organizational point of view, from being careful with this, you kind of have to err on the side of caution and be somewhat conservative. I know he's anxious to play. I know he's probably getting ready to get out of there."

Manuel admitted already formulating lineups in his mind that include Beltran.

"I've thought about it a couple of different ways," the manager said. "If he appears fresh, I was thinking of having him probably third. If not, I'll probably bat him around fifth or sixth."

Of course, it was noted, third baseman David Wright is leading the National League in RBIs with 63 and is currently batting third.

"As long as he keeps doing that, we could bat Carlos right after him [at cleanup] and give David that switch hitter with experience behind him to make sure he stays hot," Manuel said. "Not that [incumbent No. 4 hitter] Ike Davis doesn't hit, but [Beltran] is an All-Star player -- a switch hitter, power both sides."

If Beltran did bat cleanup and protect Wright, that would push Davis to fifth and Jason Bay to sixth. On days Angel Pagan plays over Jeff Francoeur in right field, Manuel said, he would like to keep Pagan in the No. 2 hole, with Luis Castillo "more than likely" eighth.

Castillo (bruised feet) also is expected to return from the DL right after the All-Star break.

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