Even before Tuesday night's game with the Tigers got underway, the Mets got a bit of good news.
Carlos Beltran will start a minor-league rehab assignment on Thursday, which means the team will have a 20-day window to return him to the major leagues unless there's a major setback.
Such setbacks can and do happen but, right now, it looks like the Mets will have Beltran waiting for them when they return from the All-Star Break. Better late than never, especially if Beltran is anything close to the player he was before this long, strange trip began.
There's only one downside to the Beltran return: What to do with Angel Pagan? Pagan led the offensive onslaught at Citi Field Tuesday with four hits, four RBIs and three runs scored as the Mets rolled past the Tigers 14-6. There's been a lot of nights like that for Pagan this season. He's now hitting .304 with an 810 OPS and 14 stolen bases while playing a very good center field. He's no longer the talented but addle-brained player he was in the past and has been a vital piece of the puzzle thus far in 2010.
It's hard to just shrug your shoulders and say that he was a fourth outfielder before so he absolutely has to be a fourth outfielder now. Beltran's productivity and overall readiness is a question mark, though the Mets will be in a tough spot if he's rounding into shape while they try to remain in a playoff race. Having Pagan behind him makes sense, but it makes more sense to have them playing beside each other.
Jeff Francoeur has his occasional hot streaks but we're deep enough in his career to know two things. One is that he doesn't hit with nearly enough power to justify his habit of swinging at every pitch thrown in every game he's ever played and the other is that he can't hit right-handed pitchers at all. Pagan, as it happens, crushes righty pitching and struggles against southpaws. That's a natural platoon situation in right field and it is one that allows Pagan to slide over to center to spell Beltran whenever necessary without much hardship (assuming you don't think of watching Francoeur as hardship).
For now Jerry Manuel is pitching the fourth outfielder spot and a rotation among all three outfield spots, so will he be wise enough to recognize the better route? We have our doubts.
This is a guy who sent Jon Niese back out to the mound after throwing 45 pitches before Tuesday's 58-minute rain delay. Manuel said he wouldn't have done so if Niese had thrown 50 pitches or sat for an hour, numbers so arbitrary that it begs the question of if Manuel ever actually considered the question before quickly coming up with his nonsensical answer. If he did, he would have realized that Niese actually sat for 90-odd minutes thanks to an eight-run Mets inning directly after play resumed.
Francoeur has survived this long on the strength of a good personality, a good arm in right and the fading memories of long ago seasons in Atlanta. Pagan is a better player, though, and that should be the only thing that matters when Manuel fills out the lineup.