ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Beltran said that he was given no better than a 50-50 chance of playing the outfield again this season, but that coin flip has worked out in the Yankees' favor. The veteran played right field on Saturday, his first appearance there since May 11.
"I'm happy, of course," Beltran said. "We have been looking forward to this, trying to put my arm in condition to be back in the outfield. It really took a while. ... Right now, I just feel like it's time."
Beltran has a bone spur in his right elbow that will require surgery after the season, but the 37-year-old said that he has been throwing without discomfort. His only action on Saturday was catching an eighth-inning fly ball in New York's 3-2 win over the Rays.
The Yankees have been playing Martin Prado in right field since his July 31 acquisition from the D-backs, with Beltran limited to designated hitter duties. Beltran's return to outfield play will increase manager Joe Girardi's flexibility in putting together lineups.
"You can get more right-handed hitters in there today [against left-hander Drew Smyly]," Girardi said. "You get in long stretches and you can give other guys a DH day. We've got some long stretches coming up."
Though his season stats are not up to expectations, Beltran has seen a jump in his numbers recently, which coincides with the improvement in his elbow. In 26 games since the All-Star break, Beltran posted a split line of .299/.355/.495, with five homers and 17 RBIs.
"I guess, in the back of my mind, sometimes I get caught up a little bit protecting it," Beltran said. "At the end of the day, I just have to come and prepare myself and try to do the best I can. Once the game starts, I try not to think about it, but during batting practice and cage work and things like that, I try to be smart and try not to do much."
Beltran said that since his elbow issue is not a secret, he would expect teams to test his arm.
"I've been playing catch, and I've been throwing to the bases -- second base, for the most part," Beltran said. "I've been making throws where I feel like if that happened in the game, I could do that. It feels fine."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.