Frenchy is headed to the bench

NEW YORK -- Jeff Francoeur said starting the second half of the season on the bench in San Francisco will be "uncharted territory." In his five seasons in the big leagues, the Mets right-fielder couldn't recall a time when he wasn't starting on a consistent basis.

But Francoeur will find himself on the bench Thursday night, a victim of Carlos Beltran's return and Angel Pagan's red-hot bat. And it may be a regular occurrence after the All-Star break.

With Beltran set to return to the field for the first time in 2010, the Mets were forced to make a decision. They have four healthy outfielders (counting Beltran), so someone has to sit Thursday. And the slumping Francoeur, who went 1-for-11 against the Atlanta Braves this weekend, is the logical candidate.

The right-fielder learned the news during a chat with manager Jerry Manuel before the Mets' 3-0 win over the Braves on Sunday.

"We had a good talk and obviously I'm not dumb," Francoeur said. "You see how Angel's playing and it's great."

Manuel said after the game that he planned to find playing time for everyone in the second half. Jason Bay, who sat Sunday (the same day the Mets handed out his bobblehead doll), is hitting just .265 with six homers and 44 RBIs is in the first year of a four-year, $66 million deal. But given Bay's hefty contract and the public firestorm that benching him might create, it's probably easier for everyone in the organization if Manuel platoons Pagan with Beltran and Francoeur.

Still, with the Mets just four games behind the Braves after Sunday's win and facing a crucial 11-day 11-game West Coast trip to start the second half, Manuel conceded that he'd have to go with the hot hand when filling out the lineup card.

"I'm going to give them all as much time as possible," Manuel said. "And then I'm going to do what's best to win the game. We're in a pennant race. However the pieces fit, we have to put him out there."

Manuel indicated that he was leaning toward playing Pagan primarily against right-handed pitchers and starting Francoeur against left-handers. The manager made it clear that nothing is set in stone, but hitting Pagan against righties and Francoeur against lefties makes sense, given the players' career statistical splits.

Francoeur is hitting .223 in 243 plate appearances against right-handers and .348 in 77 plate appearances against left-handers, with a .403 on-base percentage against southpaws in 2010. For his career, Francoeur is .256 against righties and .302 against lefties.

Pagan is hitting .328 against right-handers and .273 against lefties this season and .308 against righties and .252 against lefties for his career.

Neither player did anything Sunday to make Manuel's decision on Thursday's lineup look foolish.

Pagan finished 3-for-5 with a run scored -- his fourth straight multihit game. He's hitting .484 (15-for-31) with three doubles, a triple and two homers in his past seven games.

Francoeur finished 1-for-4 with a strikeout and is just 6-for-35 in his past 11 games.

"Whatever happens when Carlos comes back, it's out of my control," Pagan said. "Of course, I want to stay in the lineup, but it's not my decision."

Francoeur will be the even man out Thursday, but he said Manuel told him that he'd play in two of the remaining three games in San Francisco, when the Mets face left-handers. The Mets may face three right-handers against Arizona in the following series, meaning Pagan is likely to start. But Francoeur said Manuel told him he would start one of the three games against the Diamondbacks.

Francoeur, always lighthearted with reporters and quick to smile, predictably accepted his manager's decision graciously, saying "you won't see me sulking out there on the bench."

"We'll kind of see how it works as it goes," he added. "I'm going to fight like heck to help this team win. If that's coming off the bench, then that's what it's going to be."

Ian Begley is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com

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