Beltran takes step toward possible return

Beltran takes step toward possible return

NEW YORK -- Carlos Beltran took a step toward a possible return to the Mets' lineup by taking fly balls in the outfield on Friday.

Beltran is scheduled to do the same on Saturday, as long as he feels up to the task. Working out without pain on back-to-back days could mean that a rehab stint in the Minors isn't too far away for the outfielder, who has been out with a bone bruise on his right knee since June 21.

"[He] looked better, much better," manager Jerry Manuel said. "The early part of it, from what I understand, went very well. He'll do the same thing tomorrow and see how it responds with back-to-back activity. We'll go from there."

Though Manuel said Beltran's outing on Friday was an improvement over his last exercise in the outfield, the Mets are waiting until Saturday's workout to have a better read on when Beltran could make his return.

"I'm very optimistic about [a return] at this point," Manuel said, repeating those last three words. "Tomorrow will be a determining factor. It depends on how he responds to what he did today, and can he do the same thing tomorrow. That will be key."

Beltran was hitting .336 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs when he was placed on the disabled list in June. He missed five games in late May due to both the bone bruise and a stomach flu but returned to the lineup on June 4. By the end of the month, the pain in his knee had become too great to tolerate.

When he was placed on the DL, Beltran hoped that he could return in 15 days or, at the latest, after the All-Star break. But the bruise has not diminished as hoped.

Beltran has now missed 47 games this season -- the most since 2000.

The loss of Beltran appears, in retrospect, to have been the straw that broke the camel's back for the Mets this season. The Mets treaded water without Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes for a month, and were 34-33 and two games out of first in the National League East the day Beltran was placed on the DL. They are 19-28 since, 12 games behind the Phillies in the division and 10 1/2 back in the Wild Card race.

More specifically, with Beltran in the lineup, the Mets as a team hit .277, had a .356 on-base percentage and scored 4.6 runs per game. Without him, they are batting .254 with an OBP of .314 and are scoring 3.8 runs per contest.

Even with the playoffs all but out of reach, Manuel stressed the importance of the season's last six weeks.

"Our job as a staff, and my job, is to make sure we play at a level that's acceptable for Major League Baseball and for the New York Mets," Manuel said. "We have to continue to really get after it these last however many games and see where we are."

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.