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Free of pain, Beltran sees good days ahead

Outfielder expects he won't be only Yankee to put injury-plagued season behind him

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran points to the scar on his right elbow and attempts to find some context for a frustrating 2014 season.

"I got caught up in thinking too much instead of playing the game," he said.

Beltran tried treatment, medication and rest. He tried altering his swing. He tried throwing less, hitting less.

"I was trying to find a way to still play and not feel pain," he said. "Every day was pain, pain. Thank God that's in the past."

The Yankees feel good about Beltran this season. If it turns out the way they think it might, they're going to look back to an offseason in which Beltran was at Yankee Stadium five days a week for rehab work.

"He's determined," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "One thing I've heard a number of times by a few of the staff members is that he is excited and determined about this year."

Back to that scar on Beltran's right elbow ...

"When they first looked at the X-rays, they found one bone spur," he said. "Actually, there was three, and one was loose inside the joint."

Beltran played 109 games in his first season with the Yankees after signing a three-year, $45 million contract. He missed time with a concussion and right knee injury as well, and when he was finally shut down in September, his .233 batting average was 50 points below what his career average had been entering the season.

The Yankees begin this season with a long list of unknowns, mostly related to health. CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka are atop the list. Mark Teixeira, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda are on it, too.

The Yankees are confident that if they can just keep their main guys on the field, they'll compete for a postseason berth.

Beltran arrived as part of a 2013-14 spending spree in which catcher Brian McCann, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Tanaka were also fitted for pinstripes. But injuries killed the Yankees and kept them out of the postseason for a second straight season.

Video: Hoch breaks down the Yankees' outfield for 2015

Beltran was signed after hitting 56 home runs and compiling an .836 OPS over two seasons with the Cardinals. Even though he was 36 years old, Cashman believed he still had plenty left in the tank, in part because of his relentless work ethic.

And post-Derek Jeter, Beltran was exactly the right kind of guy to help transition the Yankees into a new era.

"Calm and professional," Cashman said.

Now 37, Beltran said he's excited to be back in uniform and feeling good again. His September surgery to clean up the elbow went smoothly and so did the recovery.

"I'm very excited," Beltran said. "I think we have a good team, good people. We just need to find a way to put it together. Last year was a rough year. We went through a lot of ups and downs, a lot of injuries. A lot of key guys were out for a long period of time. This year, we're looking forward to staying healthy and keeping the core of the group together for a long time. If we can do that, we're capable of playing good baseball and competing.

"When I look at the team this year compared to last year, CC seems like he's healthy. He's a key guy for us. Masahiro also. Pineda is feeling good. I'm healthy, Tex is healthy. We're just excited to play together and have the opportunity to see what we can do."

Beltran is building a resume that will someday have him in the Hall of Fame conversation. He has 373 career home runs and an .847 career OPS. Beltran is the only player ever to have four straight seasons with at least 100 runs, 20 homers, 100 RBIs and 30 stolen bases (2001-04). He's one of five with at least seven seasons of 20 home runs and 20 steals. The others: Barry Bonds (10), Bobby Bonds (10), Bobby Abreu (nine) and Eric Davis (seven). And Beltran is a .333 hitter in 51 postseason games.

Injuries have slowed Beltran along the way, especially in 2009 and '10, when knee problems limited him to 145 games combined. All in all, though, he's one of those guys who has accomplished almost everything he has set out to accomplish.

"For me, I've always been passionate about the game of baseball," Beltran said. "I'm very thankful to God to allow me to play this game for a long time. You know, I know there have been a lot of injuries, but at the end of the day, He has allowed me to perform and do a good job. I'm happy with that."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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