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Beltran to start on Opening Day

New York Mets' Carlos Beltran (15) slides safely

New York Mets' Carlos Beltran (15) slides safely home from second base after teammate Daniel Murphy's single to right field in a spring training game. (March 5, 2011) Credit: AP

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Carlos Beltran is expected to make his first Opening Day start since 2009 after general manager Sandy Alderson announced Monday that it is time to "roll the dice" with the club's converted rightfielder.

Alderson and manager Terry Collins spoke with Beltran before Monday's game at Digital Domain Park was rained out, and the group decided he will make his first Grapefruit League appearance since March 6 Tuesday against the Nationals.

That was a significant step for two reasons. The decision means the Mets plan to start Beltran in rightfield Friday. It also means that as soon as he plays Tuesday, the Mets lose the safety net of backdating him on the disabled list for the maximum 10 days.

If something goes wrong, the difference is three regular-season games on the disabled list as opposed to roughly two weeks. But the Mets, after discussing it with Beltran, are ready to pencil him in for Friday.

"At some point, you've got to move forward," Alderson said. "I do think it would be valuable to play in major-league games; that would be an advantage over the next couple of days. It does present a risk.

"But look, at some point, you've got to roll the dice. Given his firmness about how he feels and the fact that he's ready to go, we decided that this is probably the best thing for us."

Beltran, apparently growing weary of his daily updates, declined to speak with reporters Monday. But little has changed in his condition during the past week, when he upgraded the difficulty level of his workouts. They began with limited DH duties in minor-league games before Collins tested him on the basepaths and in rightfield during a manager-supervised simulation.

During the weekend, Beltran returned to the minors again for back-to-back games in rightfield, and that convinced the Mets that he was ready to give the Grapefruit games a try.

The last time he did, as the DH on March 6, he scored from second on a single and slid into the plate. Two days later, he was shut down with tendinitis of the left knee, and on March 18, he received a cortisone shot.

Beltran has reported no pain in either knee since the injection, but he hasn't looked like the player he was during his better days. That may just take time.

"It will be a work in progress," Collins said. "I think the more comfortable he gets in rightfield, and the more at-bats he gets, obviously the better he'll play."

For that reason, Collins will try to "protect" Beltran with plenty of rest early in the season, and that should help preserve whatever he has left in his arthritic knees. Collins refused to say whether he intends to use Beltran as his cleanup hitter Friday, opting to address it later in the week. At this point, having him on the field is enough.

"It's huge," Collins said. "It's what we've been talking about since we arrived in this camp, that we have a good club and we need him in the lineup."

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