NEW YORK (AP) — Carlos Beltran declared himself ready to take the next step in his recovery from a right knee injury after the Mets center fielder completed outfield drills for a second straight day.

Beltran was hopeful that he will run in a straight line early next week, then move on to running the bases before going on a brief minor league rehabilitation assignment.

“Today was very good day for me,” Beltran said Saturday. “I didn’t feel anything in everything I did.”

He felt “natural” while shagging flies in front of a cadre of coaches and trainers before the Mets faced the San Francisco Giants. While performing similar drills on Friday, he said he felt some discomfort in the knee when he went for balls hit to his left.

Beltran said he’ll probably run in a pool Sunday “to do something different.”

The Gold Glove outfielder couldn’t say when he would return from a bone bruise that put him on the disabled list on June 22, but he said that if he hit well, his rehab could be a short one. He has been hitting in the cage for about three weeks and feels ready to face big league pitching.

“My concern is running the bases because that is really going to let you know how well your knee is,” he said.

With the Mets already missing stars Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado, Beltran’s injury sent New York on a slide that landed the team out of playoff contention. Just two games behind the Phillies when he went on the DL, the Mets entered Saturday trailing the NL East leaders by 12 and 9½ games back in the wild-card race.

Beltran, who is hitting .336 with eight homers, 20 doubles, 40 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 62 games, still feels it’s important he returns to the field now rather than give his knee more time to rest.

“It doesn’t matter if we were one game behind, 12 games behind, 20 games behind,” Beltran said. “My job as a player is to rehab myself and get back to playing. This is what I love to do.”

Mets manager Jerry Manuel thought Beltran looked very good and was eager to see his All-Star slugger back on the field if only for “selfish” reasons.

“I think for me it would be not to have to answer that question in spring training,” Manuel said of Beltran’s health. “If I could get that answer now, then going into spring training it would be one less thing for me that I would have to think about, or manage. And when you go into the spring you hope all that is behind you, but if you played in September then you really feel that it’s behind you.”

Of more immediate concern, shortstop Alex Cora was scratched from the starting lineup about 30 minutes before game time because of a sore left hand. He was replaced by Anderson Hernandez.

Also, Mets reliever Billy Wagner, who is rehabbing from elbow reconstructive surgery, should be back with the team in the next few days. There was a nameplate above his locker and a uniform hanging in it, but the Mets weren’t sure when he would arrive.

Team spokesman Jay Horwitz said Wagner is moving his family back to Virginia from Florida, where his was doing his rehab.

Manuel said that the 38-year-old former closer is ahead of schedule in his recovery from elbow ligament replacement surgery last Sept. 10. When Wagner does return, Manuel added that the Mets will be more regimented with him than with other relievers.

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