PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The Mets won't rush Carlos Beltran to play centerfield, but they're doing everything within their power to get him ready for Opening Day.

Terry Collins said Tuesday the Mets have communicated to other teams that they want to use a designated hitter through March 10, a stretch that would allow Beltran to get time at the plate without pushing his arthritic right knee.

So far Beltran has participated in all of the team drills, as well as doing his own running program on the side, and has shown no signs of favoring the knee. Beltran looked fine Tuesday taking batting practice from both sides of the plate, and Collins is optimistic that he ultimately will wind up in centerfield.

"I don't think there's any question he might be," Collins said. "But until he starts playing on it, we're not going to know. I think he's a smart enough guy, knows his body so well after the past year, that he said he will be completely honest with how he feels."

As for using him at DH, Collins is thankful that he has that as a safety net to protect Beltran early on.

"What I was worried about was him not playing at all early and then all of a sudden really got to force it late," Collins said. "And that scares me."


Top 25 arrive Thursday

The Mets will open minor-league camp for their top 25 prospects Thursday, and the elites will wrap up their early session with an exhibition game against Team Italy on March 5, which is when everyone else will report. Matt Harvey, last year's first-round draft pick from North Carolina, will be among the early arrivals, along with Wilmer Flores, Cory Vaughn and Jeurys Familia.

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