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Angel Pagan's playing time may be diminishing soon, but he's making a strong case for remaining in the New York Mets' lineup.

The center fielder looks to continue his hot streak as the Mets try to win for the 12th time in 13 games at Citi Field on Wednesday night against the Detroit Tigers.

New York (40-30) announced Tuesday that Carlos Beltran will start a rehabilitation assignment at Class-A St. Lucie on Thursday, and the five-time All-Star could return from offseason knee surgery around the All-Star break.

Beltran's eventual return is expected to cut into Pagan's playing time, but Pagan could make it a tough call for manager Jerry Manuel. He leads the Mets with a .304 average, and he's hitting .386 with five doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs during a career high-tying 10-game hitting streak. New York is 8-2 in that stretch.

"What's in my mind is to help the team as much as I can and to protect Carlos' spot; that's a big responsibility," said Pagan, who played a career-high 88 games last year.

Pagan was outstanding again Tuesday, tying a career high with four hits and adding four RBIs while coming a homer shy of the cycle in a 14-6 win over Detroit (38-31) in the opener of this three-game set.

"Angel's playing extremely well," Manuel said. "He's been big."

The Mets are second in the NL East, 1 1/2 games behind first-place Atlanta.

R.A. Dickey (5-0, 2.82 ERA), recalled from Triple-A Buffalo on May 19, has been another major surprise for New York, and he'll take the mound Wednesday looking to become the first starter to win his first six decisions with the club.

The 35-year-old knuckleballer is also vying to become the first Met to win six starts in a row since Mike Pelfrey did it from June 16-July 13, 2008.

An adjustment helped Dickey turn in another strong effort Thursday. He allowed three runs - two earned - while striking out seven in six innings of a 6-4 win at Cleveland.

"I had runners on second and third and (pitching coach Dan Warthen) came out and encouraged me to throw the hard one," Dickey said. "It's about 4, 5 mph harder than my comfort-zone knuckler. It was a good step in my evolution, learning to adjust in-game."

Dickey is 2-2 with a 4.69 ERA in 12 games - five starts - versus the Tigers. He lost his last appearance against them July 3, giving up four runs and nine hits in three innings of relief for Minnesota.

The Tigers have dropped nine of 12 on the road, and the staff has a 6.36 ERA in that stretch.

Jeremy Bonderman (3-4, 4.06) is 1-2 with a 6.03 ERA in six road starts, but he's coming off a solid performance in an 8-3 home win over Washington on Thursday. The right-hander retired the first 11 batters he faced and held the Nationals to two runs while striking out seven over seven innings.

Bonderman will now try to win a second consecutive start for the first time since a personal eight-game winning streak from April 30-June 20, 2007. He's been plagued by injuries over the last two years.

"He's throwing it harder in his last couple starts," catcher Alex Avila told the team's official website. "He had very good movement. His slider was very good and sharp (Thursday). He threw some good changeups."

Bonderman is 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts against the Mets.

Tagged: Tigers, Mets, Carlos Beltran, R.A. Dickey, Jeremy Bonderman, Angel Pagan

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