Beltran expects to take next step shortly

Beltran expects to take next step shortly

SAN DIEGO -- The Mets may have Carlos Beltran back in uniform sooner than they once thought. They're just not willing to commit themselves to that scenario quite yet.

Though Mets manager Jerry Manuel could not confirm a radio report in which Beltran said he expects to play in an extended spring training game within the next week, a team official acknowledged Tuesday that it is "possible" Beltran could do so. And Manuel said he has recently begun receiving positive reports on his disabled center fielder.

"From what I understand, he's progressing very well," Manuel said. "He's still in one of those situations where after he does something, you have to wait to the next day to see if he progresses to another level. From what I understand, he's on a nice track. When he will start playing depends on how he feels on a day-to-day basis."

Despite Manuel's optimism, there is reason for caution. Beltran's words, spoken Tuesday on New York radio station WFAN, came from the player and not the Mets' medical staff, which holds the final say in such matters. And the words came just five days after general manager Omar Minaya provided a far bleaker prognosis of the situation.

Either way, once Beltran begins playing games, he will still need four to six additional weeks of rehab before he can return to the active roster.

Beltran has been on the disabled list all season following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in January. He has been hitting and jogging for roughly a month, but has not yet begun sprinting or making outfield cuts.

"Obviously, we're concerned with his progress," Manuel said. "But I'm somewhat reserved in expectations when they come, because I haven't seen him in such a long time and I don't know the effect of the time off -- how that is going to play in his comeback."

Manuel did not dismiss the possibility of using Beltran in right field when he returns, which would reward Angel Pagan -- quite possibly the superior defender at this point in his career -- for his strong play all season. But he will wait to make such logistical decisions until Beltran is once again in uniform.

"I'd just like to obviously get that bat in the lineup at some point, some place," Manuel said.