Carlos Beltran's three-hit night a bright spot in a frustrating season

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Carlos Beltran #36 of the Yankees celebrates his Carlos Beltran #36 of the Yankees celebrates his fourth inning home run against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, June 29, 2014 in the Bronx. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.

A funny thing happened Sunday as we crunched a few numbers from Carlos Beltran's rocky debut season with the Yankees.

And by funny, we mean strange, not ha-ha.

Scrolling down the list, trying to find where Beltran sat in the OPS rankings, we finally found him, at No. 159. Beltran, through his first 221 plate appearances, had a .655 OPS before the series finale with the Red Sox.

Same as Ruben Tejada.

Good for Tejada, not so hot for Beltran.

How it's possible that a potential Hall of Famer like Beltran, signed to a $45-million contract this past offseason, could be neighbors with the Mets' trod-upon shortstop is sort of mind-blowing.

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But there is one notable difference: Tejada is capable of playing the field.

Beltran can't because of lingering forearm tightness that keeps him stuck in his current role as one of the lightest-hitting DHs in the majors. He was back there again Sunday night but looked dramatically different in the Yankees' 8-5 loss to the Red Sox.

Beltran smacked his eighth home run and finished a triple short of the cycle for his third three-hit game of the season and first since April 13. It was the type of performance the Yankees had been waiting on.

So what was it? A revamped approach at the plate?

"Good results, that's all," Beltran said.

The Yankees, with their underperforming lineup, need to see plenty more of that from him. In a span of nearly four hours, Beltran went from being questionable for the game to mashing pitches during it.

Joe Girardi had asked Beltran if he needed a day off, but he declined. "When a player tells me he's fine," Girardi said, "I believe him."

But it's all relative for Beltran, who really isn't fine. He's playing with a bone spur in his right elbow that will require surgery after the season -- or perhaps earlier.

Compensating for the spur may have produced the discomfort in his forearm, which forced the Yankees to shut down the throwing program designed to get him ready for a return to outfield duty. He is expected to try it again, maybe later in the week, but he didn't sound all that optimistic.

Remaining a DH for the rest of this season is something he won't rule out. "I don't know," he said. "Could be."

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That's not ideal for the Yankees, who signed Beltran primarily as a rightfielder who could use the DH spot for a breather now and then. Despite two chronically injured knees, he had spent the past decade in the National League. In the previous two seasons, he logged 296 games for the Cardinals, all but 26 in the outfield.

Even at the age of 37, Beltran seemed like a fairly safe bet. But he was blindsided by the bone spur, and the two weeks on the disabled list didn't do much for his plate production. Since coming off the DL on June 5, Beltran was batting .164 (12-for-73) with two homers and 17 strikeouts in 20 games.

Initially, he wasn't feeling all that comfortable leaving his glove in the clubhouse.

"It's frustrating not being able to be in the field," he said. "And you know, dealing with [the bone spur] and now the forearm. But . . . I just need to find a way to not think about it. Just focus on what I need to focus on. Just go out and compete and fight and grind."

We heard the same mantra from him during his latter seasons with the Mets, when he gritted his teeth through a couple of knee cleanups and played well enough to get traded to a contender. That was the beginning of a renaissance for Beltran, one he planned to continue in the Bronx.

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He still does. Putting Tejada in his rearview mirror would be a good start, and Beltran's OPS leaped to .691 after Sunday night's barrage.

"Hopefully,'' Girardi said, "it gets him going."

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