The Mets expect to have Carlos Beltran back in the lineup for Tuesday night's series opener against the Brewers at Miller Park. Just as they planned for David Wright to return from a stress fracture of his lower back in two weeks. Just as they anticipated that Ike Davis would shake off a sprain and bone bruise of his right ankle with a 15-day DL stint.
In the cases of Wright and Davis, those early prognoses soon jumped to more than three weeks, with the hope of five -- including a rehab assignment -- and the strong possibility that it could be longer.
That's not to say Beltran, who fouled a ball off his right shin, is more seriously hurt than the Mets indicated late Sunday. But it is important to get this one right and make sure to minimize Beltran's absence, which will be difficult for the Mets to absorb beyond the short term.
In fielding questions about Beltran after Sunday night's 6-4 win over the Braves, Terry Collins showed that he's learning. When asked repeatedly if Beltran will play Tuesday night, Collins wisely deferred.
"I can't predict that," the manager said. "I have no idea. I'm not a doctor. The trainers, they told me he's fine. I'm sure it's going to be very sore, and so we'll make a decision on Tuesday how he stands."
The X-rays were negative, but Beltran limped as he left the field Sunday night, and there are other considerations aside from his shin that go into clearing him. Beltran still wears a brace on his arthritic right knee and runs the risk of further problems if he starts compensating for the shin.
"I was worried," Beltran said, "because when I came down the [dugout] stairs, I could barely put my foot on the floor."
Collins could see that Beltran was seriously hurting. At one point after leaving the batter's box, he fell to all fours in trying to get back to his feet. But the most telling moment came when it was time for Beltran to head back to rightfield.
Beltran has played in 57 of the first 59 games, more than any other Met, and started 52 of them. But as he walked slowly in front of the dugout, he was stopped by Collins, who then heard all he needed to hear.
"He told me, 'I don't think I can go,' '' Collins said. "And he has never said that one time this year. So I know it was bothering him."
In the first inning, Beltran ripped an RBI double off the Braves' Tim Hudson, then scored on Angel Pagan's sacrifice fly. Beltran leads the majors with 19 doubles, and entering last night, his 29 extra-base hits tied him for second in the National League with Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder. (Arizona's Chris Young has 30.)
Reyes has been baseball's best leadoff hitter and Beltran is an indispensable pillar in the middle of the Mets' depleted lineup, which has been leaning on Daniel Murphy in the cleanup spot. Beltran leads the Mets with nine home runs, 34 RBIs and a .522 slugging percentage.
It also would be helpful to have Beltran healthy for Miller Park, where he has three doubles, five homers and 14 RBIs in 15 games.
For the Mets' sake, they have to hope spending Monday with his right shin packed in ice will speed Beltran's recovery.
He made no promises about Tuesday night. Said Beltran, "We'll see what happens."