Beltran back; Pagan to platoon in right

NEW YORK -- Carlos Beltran insists he's pain free and ready to return to the New York Mets' lineup on Thursday in San Francisco.

"I'm happy to be back and a part of the team," Beltran said at Citi Field before Sunday's Mets-Atlanta Braves game. "[And to] try to help accomplish our mission: trying to win the division and trying to be in the playoffs."

Jerry Manuel said Beltran will hit fourth and play center field against the Giants. Angel Pagan, who has started in center field in place of Beltran, will play right field on Thursday and Jeff Francoeur, who is just 5-for-31 in his last 10 games, will sit. Manuel indicated that he would platoon Pagan and Francoeur, playing Pagan primarily against right-handed pitchers.

"The next night I'll probably play Francoeur against the lefty," Manuel said. "I think I'm going to try to split that time up. But if we face a series where we face four right-handers I'm going to still have to find time for Francoeur and find time to give Beltran a day off."

Francoeur said after Sunday's game that he understands the situation and he's well aware of what a healthy Beltran can do for the team.

"You're not going to see me sulking. I'll be ready to play," Francoeur said.

Beltran's return will also allow Manuel to slide Ike Davis and Jason Bay down a spot in the order. Davis is hitting just .205 in his last 10 games and Bay, who sat on Sunday, was 0-for-10 in his last three games. Bay has just six home runs this season, his first since signing a four-year, $66 million contract with the Mets.

Beltran had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Jan. 13 and will wear a knee brace when he returns. He wasn't sure how long he would have to wear the brace and said it affects his range of motion.

"If it's good for me to wear and it's going to protect my knee then I need to get used to it," Beltran said.

The seven-time All-Star said he told the Mets he wanted to return for the Cincinnati series earlier this week, but the team decided that he would benefit from extra minor league rehab games in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

He hit .367 in 14 games for the Class A St. Lucie Mets, playing a full nine innings in the field.

Beltran insisted that he is pain-free following the surgery and subsequent rehab, but hesitated to make a claim that he's 100 percent healthy.

"I'm ready to go out and play the game the way it's supposed to be played," Beltran said. "It doesn't matter if I'm 80, 90 or 100 percent. What is important is what [the Mets] asked me to do, I did everything and I'm ready to go."

Beltran said he felt neither pain nor soreness in his knee and said he felt much better than when he tried to rush back after a knee injury last September. He said the last MRI on his knee showed that one area of his bone bruise was improved and the other "was the same." But Beltran noted that he wasn't feeling the "sharp pain" that he'd felt in his knee prior to surgery.

He will not play in any more minor league games before joining the Mets on Thursday. Beltran said "it will take time" for him to get up to speed at the major-league level.

"At the big-league level it's a different story," said Beltran, who proclaimed himself in the best physical shape of his life. "It will take me time. I don't expect to come up here and rake, you know. I just expect to come here and you know, do my part. Be able to contribute wherever I can.

"After being out for so long, it's tough. But I really feel like all the sacrifice, all of the effort I put into the rehab paid off."

The Mets were upset that Beltran decided to have surgery before the team could assess medical reports. Beltran disputed the assertion that he went against team wishes at the time. He said Sunday that he doesn't hold any ill will toward the team.

"To me, I turned the page," Beltran said. "That's part of the past. I'm looking forward to being here, to helping this organization accomplish a goal: win the division, go to the playoffs and try to win a championship. That's our mentality since I signed with this organization and it's not going to change.

"I'm happy to be back and a part of the team," Beltran said. "[And to] try to help accomplish our mission: trying to win the division and trying to be in the playoffs."

Ian Begley is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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