Beltran's impending return will impact lineup
Center fielder set to play Thursday; rest of outfield will shift
NEW YORK -- Carlos Beltran made his 2010 debut at Citi Field on Sunday.
His New York media debut, that is.
Beltran won't take the field until after the All-Star break, when the Mets open up an 11-game West Coast road trip on Thursday.
Dressed in street clothes, Beltran answered questions about his surgically repaired right knee and what he expects to be able to contribute when he makes his long-awaited return.
"Who knows? The way I played at Port St. Lucie, I think I swung the bat well, but at the big league level, it's a different story," Beltran said.
Beltran hit .367 over 49 at-bats in his rehab starts, but didn't hit a home run or steal a base.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel said that Beltran will play right away in center field, where he will track down balls while wearing a protective brace.
Angel Pagan has been the everyday center fielder in Beltran's absence, and has emerged as one of the Mets' best players. Pagan has hit .311 with an .833 OPS, six home runs and 19 stolen bases this season, but will have to move to right field for the majority of his playing time with Beltran back.
"That's my position, but I think if I have to play the corners, I've done it before and I've done it pretty good, so that's not going to be anything new for me," Pagan said. "It's just a matter of getting a little practice and seeing how it feels and hopefully bringing the same defense for the corners, but I'm ready for anything right now."
Manuel said his tentative plan has the lineup reading: Jose Reyes, Pagan, David Wright, Beltran, Ike Davis and Jason Bay, followed by that day's catcher and second baseman.
That leaves current starting right fielder Jeff Francoeur out of the fold, but Manuel said that he will likely start Francoeur, who has hit .302 against lefties and .256 against righties for his career, against left-handed starters. Above all, Manuel will look to keep Francoeur sharp, even if the team doesn't draw a lefty for a stretch.
"If we're in a series and we face four righties, we still have to find time for Francoeur," Manuel said.
Beltran's return will mean a diminished role for Pagan, Francoeur and maybe even Bay if he continues to struggle, but the Mets know his presence will greatly help their chances of a second-half playoff push.
"It's not that we're running the triangle offense here -- it's just baseball," Alex Cora said. "You put him where he belongs and he's going to do his thing. He's an impact player one of the best players in the league. We knew this day was going to come, and it's a good day for us."
Still, Beltran was reluctant to embrace the notion that the Mets' fate will rest on his shoulders. The team has had some stretches of great baseball without him, and he insisted he is just looking to fit in.
"I don't expect to come here and rake, I just expect to come here and do my part, be able to contribute any way I can," Beltran said.
Kyle Maistri is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.