Apr 21

April 21.10: Although news not good on Beltran, it was still a good signing.

The news isn’t good on Carlos Beltran, who was examined Tuesday in Vail, Colo. Beltran remains in neutral with no word on a potential return that is anything other than guesswork.

Beltran, who underwent knee surgery in the offseason, hasn’t been cleared to start running. And, until he runs there’s no telling when he’ll begin baseball activities, and after that a return to the line-up.

Initially, the prognosis was up to six weeks following running for a return in May. That’s not happening. Try June now, or maybe after the All-Star break. Who is to say? I mean, who is to say with any authority?

“It’s kind of unfortunate,’’ manager Jerry Manuel said. “But what we have to do is we have to continue to play the way we have the last three or four games and hope that Carlos recovers quickly. He’s obviously an integral part of our lineup, but Angel (Pagan) is playing real well.’’

Maybe so, but there’s a reason why Pagan is a role player and Beltran a perennial All-Star.

Let’s assume at least until the end of June at the earliest. For now, Pagan is the center fielder. Gary Matthews will be kept for insurance. For now I don’t believe they’ll bring up Fernando Martinez as long as Pagan is producing.

I’ve always liked Beltran. He works hard, he hustles and he plays hurt. This was an unfortunate injury, but it would be unfair to say he was a bad signing.

This is a player who played hurt. I don’t think it would be fair to say just because this injury has lasted that the Mets should regret signing Beltran. This guy showed what he is made of when he played with a broken face after his collision with Mike Cameron.

The only thing of hindsight was the issue of the surgery. It should have been done last year, not last winter. Had it been done in September instead of trying to get him back in a lost season they might have him now.

Mar 26

March 26.10: Figueroa’s story won’t change.

As compelling as the underdog story is, there’s a reason for why he is. Just as Cornell lost last night to Kentucky because of depth of talent, that is also the limitation of Nelson Figueroa’s feel-good story.

There’s a reason why Figueroa has bounced around all these years: His talent it that of the sixth man in a five-man rotation. Every once in awhile he shows a glimmer, but overall the more he pitches the more his flaws are exposed.

Figueroa pitches today not so much as an effort to get Jerry Manuel to change his mind about the fifth spot in the rotation but as he does to audition for somebody else.

Figueroa, 35, who refers as himself as an “insurance policy,’’ has been around long enough to know the score.

“I’m in a position where I’m going out there and throwing for 29 other teams right now,’’ Figueroa said. “Being the insurance policy has its benefits. But at the same time, it’s a frustrating situation. I feel like if I’m given the opportunity to be more than that, I can be.’’

But, it won’t happen with the Mets because there’s always a faster gun, somebody who is younger, who throws harder, who is more a natural.

Actually, Figueroa got an extended look last year because of the Mets’ decimated rotation and went 3-8 with a 4.09 ERA. That included losing five consecutive decisions in September,

Figueroa’s heart, grit and determination is the essence of what sport should be, but it isn’t the reality in today’s game, which is driven by the need to win immediately. Maybe in a town with less pressure, Figueroa might get a chance.

But it would be the same story with the Mets, him passing through waivers, going back to Triple-A Buffalo, and waiting for the call generated by the inevitable injury or calamity in the rotation.

Still, pitching minor league baseball for what Figueroa would make is a better job than most of us will have, earning him $119,500 if he spends the full season in the minors.

It just isn’t the job he wants.