SAN DIEGO - The revelation that Carlos Beltran finally is running the bases again, and could play in an extended spring game next week in Port St. Lucie, was enough to brighten the smile of Jerry Manuel before last night's game at PETCO Park.

But if the Mets continue to be humiliated during this brief stay on the West Coast, as they were in Monday's 18-6 pounding by the Padres, it may not matter much to this manager. Which is why Manuel was hopeful that Beltran's progress would get him back to the majors in the relatively near future.

"The quicker the better for me, right?" Manuel said.

A Mets official said Tuesday that Beltran, who has been taking batting practice for weeks, ramped up his running program to include the bases.

Beltran was not worried about his timing at the plate, or even chasing down fly balls. But despite Beltran telling WFAN that he'd be ready for extended spring games next week, a team official stressed that may be premature.

"From what I understand he's progressing very well," Manuel said. "He's still in one of those situations where after he does something you have to wait to the next day to see if he progresses to another level. From what I understand he's on a nice track. When he will start playing depends on how he feels on a day-to-day basis."

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Even then, the Mets refuse to project any timetable for Beltran's return. Manuel knows Beltran will have to be integrated back into the lineup slowly, and split time with Angel Pagan in centerfield. Given Beltran's knee problems, a healthy Pagan will be the better defensive option in center, and Manuel did not rule out that he may have to broach that subject with Beltran.

"I'd probably wait and visit that," Manuel said. "That's not out of the question. And it depends on how he's running. All those things are factors in it. It would be something I would have to entertain with him as to how comfortable he feels with it."

The simple act of returning to the lineup does not guarantee being an All-Star caliber player again. Just ask Jose Reyes, who played only one rehab game at Class A St. Lucie before he was activated from the DL on April 10. It took Reyes more than a month in the majors to feel like himself again after playing only 36 games last season.

"I didn't think it was going to be that bad," Reyes said Tuesday. "I felt good in extended spring games, but when I got up here, everything was much different. My timing was messed up and I couldn't even recognize breaking pitches. It was very frustrating."

Beltran's layoff has not been quite as bad as what Reyes had to overcome. He totaled 81 games last season, and after a 10-week stint on the DL with a bone bruise in the right knee, Beltran fought back to play 19 games in the final month. Even on one healthy leg, Beltran batted .325 (100-for-308) with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs, but it's difficult for Manuel to envision what he'll get from him this year.

"He was somewhat limited," Manuel said. "There's no doubt about that. I don't know what to expect, but all of the reports are that he's doing extremely well. I don't know whether it's well compared to anyone else or it's well compared to Carlos Beltran. That would really be the big question. That's what we'll observe when he gets here."