PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Carlos Beltran finally is running again, and with the strides he made Wednesday - both literally and figuratively - the All-Star centerfielder is hopeful that he ultimately can avoid microfracture surgery and rejoin the Mets before too long.
Beltran, wearing a brace on his right knee, ran four loops along the warning track, starting in the rightfield corner and finishing at home plate. He only began the running program on Monday, but by the fourth lap, Beltran had increased the pace from jogging to longer, more purposeful strides.
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Beltran believes he could be sprinting by the end of next week, which would lead to running the bases soon after. But for now, he's pleased to be running without pain - especially after he could not last for a minute on a treadmill only three weeks earlier during a checkup at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Colorado.
"Thank God there's no pain," Beltran said at the Mets' minor-league complex. "It's a learning process for me to start running again, so right now I'm thinking about how to make it perfect. Today was the first day I ran and didn't have to think about it. I was happy with today. Today was a pretty good day."
Otherwise, Beltran says he is in great shape and has dropped 10 pounds since the start of spring training. He took batting practice off a machine Wednesdayon Field 4 and easily smacked balls over the fence from both sides of the plate.
When an instructor told Beltran to treat the final 20 swings as game situations, he went 10-for-10 with seven home runs from the right side. After switching to the left, Beltran went 7-for-10 with five homers, and two caromed off the roof of a utility shed well beyond the rightfield fence.
"Hitting I feel fine," Beltran said. "I'm in the greatest shape of my career because I've never worked as hard as I have during this rehab. I'm just looking forward to getting out of here, man. I want to be with the boys. I know they're fighting and they're playing better baseball. I believe with me being on the team, I can help."
Beltran revealed that he was given the option of having microfracture surgery this winter, but chose the arthroscopic procedure to "clean out" his right knee instead. Beltran said that microfracture surgery requires a nine-month rehab process before beginning baseball activity and that would have wiped out the entire 2010 season.
"They told me, we want to try everything before that," Beltran said. "Before that we're going to try everything from A to Z, different things that we believe can help you. It's been a slow, slow progress, but it's been progress, that's what I'm happy about."
Beltran also said the doctors in Colorado determined that his left leg was longer than his right and gave him orthotics to help align his knees. The knee brace is helpful now during rehab, but Beltran hopes to shed it once he's ready to play again.
"Right now, it's hard for me to set a date because I'm not doing a lot yet," Beltran said. "It's encouraging because I don't feel the pain. Once I start running the bases, I think I will have a better time frame to when I can be helping the team."