PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New York Mets first-year manager Terry Collins very much wants to have a stable lineup this season, with players feeling comfortable because they know before they arrive at the ballpark where they will be batting that day.
As Collins is sure to find out, however, Carlos Beltran's right knee does not figure to make that possible.
Sunday was a positive day for the Mets, as Beltran made his first Grapefruit League appearance of 2011, going 1-for-3 while serving as designated hitter in a 6-5 win against the Boston Red Sox.
But Collins acknowledged after the game that already he is mapping out a plan to strategically rest Beltran in April and May to avoid too much pounding on his arthritic knee.
Remember, Beltran's knee may be passable now -- he said it was stiff, not painful, Sunday -- but it is worth noting that Beltran had to stop playing with a week to go last season because of pain. The wear and tear of this season figures to inflame that underlying condition again as the season progresses.
"I've looked at the schedule," Collins said. "I've tried to be very concerned [about when to sit Beltran] -- day games after night games. I certainly have to work around some matchups that are coming up. If I'm going to give him one of those days off, is he best served facing so-and-so or so-and-so?
"Yeah, I've already anticipated trying to make sure he has enough time so that when we get to midsummer, he's still out there. And I've also thought on a daily basis to have a conversation and make sure sometime early enough in the day that he's telling me he's ready to go, or, 'Hey, look, I could use a day here and there.'"
At least, given how painlessly the center-to-right transition went, the resting of Beltran in April and May should be done with everyone on the same page and without drama.
But what does Collins do with the lineup on the days Beltran does not play?
The manager said there are two options: Just plug that day's right fielder in the No. 4 hole and leave everyone else alone. Or, he can slide everyone below Beltran up a notch, so that No. 3 David Wright is then followed by Jason Bay in the cleanup hole, Ike Davis batting fifth, and so on.
On the days Scott Hairston fills in for Beltran, Collins suggested, he is probably inclined just to have Hairston assume that cleanup role so everyone else can stay in a settled role. But the manager added that on the days lighter-hitting Willie Harris fills in, that just would not work. (So, no, we will not see a repeat of Jerry Manuel using Frank Catalanotto last season in the No. 4 hole in St. Louis on April 18 so that others were not disrupted.)
"As I told you, I don't like messing with the lineup," Collins said. "Years ago, Jim Leyland [in Pittsburgh], he believed in the same thing. He took [No. 3 hitter] Andy Van Slyke out one day and put John Cangelosi [a .243 hitter in four seasons with the Pirates] in and had him hit third. I don't want to mess too much with it, but we still have to make sure it's a good-enough lineup where they can do what they're supposed to do."
Collins went on to acknowledge that he does not have one No. 4 outfielder between Harris and Hairston in mind.
"Not in my mind at the moment," he said.
Regardless, Collins hopes -- whether it's wishful thinking or not -- treating Beltran cautiously early on will allow him to be in the lineup consistently throughout the year.