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Welcome back, Carlos

Carlos Beltran will be back this week, but

Carlos Beltran will be back this week, but will he be the five-tool force the Mets need him to be? Credit: AP, 2008

The long-awaited merry-go-round of Mets outfielders begins tonight in San Francisco, as Carlos Beltran regains control of center, Pagan is pushed to right and Frenchy sits on the benchy.

Beltran (pictured) hasn't played in a major league game since Oct. 4 of last year because of surgery in his right knee (his second in as many years), and there's a lot of question marks surrounding his return.

How many days a week can the five-time All Star play? Can he regain his power stroke? Will he be able to play an adequate centerfield while he wears a brace that limits his mobility and makes him look like he's limping? Is he even an upgrade over the outfield the Mets have without him?

All those questions will begin to be answered tonight. Even Beltran is interested to see how things will play out.

"The way I played in Port St. Lucie, I think I swung the bat well," he said. "But at the big-league level, it's a different story, you know? I do feel like I need to make adjustments. I don't expect to come here and rake. I just expect to come here and do my part, being able to contribute any way I can, and I believe in that."

Beltran batted .367 (18-for-49) in 14 games for Class A St. Lucie, but his only extra-base hits were five doubles and he drove in only five runs. The Mets, who are tied for 11th in the NL with 70 homers, would like him to return to his 41-home run form of 2006, or even his 33-home run form of 2007. But it all depends on how healthy he can stay.

"He's one of the best centerfielders in baseball when he's healthy," said Francoeur, who's taken his semi-demotion in stride. "It sounded like he was running well and healthy, and if that's the case, he's going to fit in this lineup and be a huge boost and that's something that we need moving forward. I played against him for four years and saw the damage that he can do, so I'm pretty aware of what a healthy guy can do."

One thing fans shouldn't expect is Beltran to return to a consistent base-stealer. That's fine by the Mets. They'd prefer him to trot around the bases.

**FYI**: Beltran is 4-for-7 with three walks, a double, a homer and four RBIs off Lincecum in his career.

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