ATLANTA -- While Carlos Beltran received treatment on his bruised right ribs two hours before game time on Thursday, Astros manager Phil Garner penciled him in as the starting center fielder for Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
A half hour later, as the team filtered onto the field for batting practice, Beltran declared himself a go.
"I went to the cage and hit from the left side and felt OK from the right side," the switch-hitting Beltran said. "Just tried to get it loose. I took three or four rounds and finally it started to feel better.
"From the right side, I feel a little bit shaky," he said. "I feel sore, but I think I'm going to be able to play."
Braves right-hander Juan Cruz plunked Beltran on the right side of his rib cage in the seventh inning of Wednesday's 9-3 Astros win. Beltran remained in the game and came around to score, then left the game for precautionary X-rays, which were negative.
It was a sudden end to a big postseason debut. Beltran reached base in all four of his plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with three runs scored and a two-run home run.
"[I told him to] rub some dirt on it and let's go," Jeff Bagwell said. "There's no time for pain. ... Carlos is a tough kid. He understands what the stakes are right now, and I think he'll be fine."
After the game, Beltran said he was having trouble breathing and felt pain every time he coughed or drew a deep breath.
Would there be retaliation in Game 2?
"People don't get into 'bean ball' or hit-batter wars in the playoffs," Bagwell said. "There's too much at stake. You don't need runners on base. Do I think that Juan Cruz intentionally tried to hit Carlos? No. So there's no room to even discuss that."
The Astros acquired Beltran from Kansas City in a three-team deal in late June and he eventually helped spark Houston's late-season surge. In 90 games with the Astros, Beltran batted .258 with 70 runs scored, 23 homers and 53 RBIs.
"He's one of the greatest unknown baseball players," Braves closer John Smoltz said.
Carlos Beltran / CF
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R
"He's a great player to watch, certainly one of the, if not the most, talented players I've ever had the pleasure of being around," Garner said. "He is a terrific all-around player and a good young man in addition to all that."
And he is a free agent after the season. Along with Los Angeles' Adrian Beltre and Boston's Pedro Martinez, Beltran will be one of the most coveted players on the market, and Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker has said Houston will make a play.
"He's the kind of kid you want to put an investment in," Garner said.
As the Astros slumped to start the second half of the season, even after Garner replaced the fired Jimy Williams, rumors swirled that the team would give up on the season and flip Beltran in another deal.
That obviously never happened.
"They never wavered from their stance that they were going to keep this team together, although a lot of us in the clubhouse wondered, 'Why?'" Bagwell admitted. "You've got a talent like Carlos Beltran, and even J.K. [Jeff Kent, another pending free agent], and you have a chance to get something. If you might not be able to get something for them in the offseason, it was understandable for them to want to [trade them]. But it's a credit to our organization that they never wavered."
Had Beltran been unable to play Thursday, Jason Lane would have started in right field and replaced Beltran in the No. 2 hole. Lance Berkman would have shifted to center field.
Lane replaced Beltran on Wednesday night and homered in his first postseason at-bat. He also made a tough catch in foul ground in the ninth inning.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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