NEW YORK (AP) — Francisco Alvarez is set to begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Binghamton on Thursday, putting the slumping New York Mets one step closer to getting back their starting catcher.

Alvarez was expected to miss six to eight weeks after having surgery on a torn ligament in his left thumb on April 23, four days after he slipped while rounding first base in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But Alvarez has ramped up his baseball activity, which included a live batting practice session on Saturday, and he is scheduled to catch five to seven innings on Thursday.

President of baseball operations David Stearns said the Mets are encouraged by Alvarez’s progress and eager to see how he handles catching. The 22-year-old from Venezuela will continue to wear a brace on his left hand while catching.

“The added complication here (is) a catcher with this injury is how is it going to feel receiving the baseball?” Stearns said. “So that’s the hurdle and we won’t really know until he gets out there. But everything’s going very well so far.”

The Mets were 11-8 when Alvarez went on the injured list but are 11-22 without him — tied with the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox for the worst record in the majors since April 20. New York pitchers have posted a 4.70 ERA with backups Omar Narváez and Tomás Nido behind the plate, up from 2.15 with Alvarez catching.

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