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Better Bullpen

CINCINNATI — The New York Mets got to see their rebuilt bullpen in full force in winning their 2009 opener. Those relievers also helped New York set a franchise record.

The Mets will try to carry some momentum from that strong start into Wednesday night when they face the Cincinnati Reds in the middle game of their series.

The bullpen was a major culprit in last season’s collapse, as the Mets lost 10 of their last 17 to squander a 3 1/2-game lead to Philadelphia in the NL East. That came one year after a 5-12 finish caused their seven-game lead over the Phillies to vanish.

In the hopes of avoiding another September disappointment, New York signed Francisco Rodriguez to a $37 million, three-year contract after he set a major league record with 62 saves for the Los Angeles Angels in 2008. The Mets also acquired J.J. Putz — an All-Star closer for Seattle in 2007 — in a three-team, 12-player deal and made him Rodriguez’s setup man.

They also obtained reliever Sean Green in that trade.

“They’ve got a totally different bullpen,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

“They spent a lot of money on it. They’ve got two closers. They shored up the area they wanted to shore up. You certainly want to get to them before they go there.”

The moves looked even more impressive in Monday’s season opener, as Green, Putz and Rodriguez combined to throw 3 1-3 no-hit innings in a 2-1 win over the Reds. Those performances, coupled with Johan Santana giving up three hits in 5 2-3 innings, helped the Mets set a franchise record for fewest hits allowed in an opener.

“That’s what they expect from us all year long,” Rodriguez said. “This game, the bullpen did a tremendous job.”

Mike Pelfrey hopes to benefit from the revamped bullpen after going 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA in 2008.

The right-hander is coming off his first full year in the majors, during which he won six consecutive starts from June 16-July 13. That run ended at Cincinnati on July 20, when he allowed five runs and six hits – three homers – in seven innings of a 7-5, 10-inning win.

Pelfrey is 1-1 with a 4.43 ERA in four games —three starts — against the Reds.

Cincinnati will turn to Edinson Volquez (17-6, 3.21), who emerged as the club’s most reliable starter last season after being acquired from Texas in December 2007.

The right-hander finished tied for second in the NL with Santana and Arizona’s Dan Haren at 206 strikeouts while also leading the Reds in wins and playing in his first All-Star game.

Volquez, however, wasn’t sharp starting opposite Pelfrey on July 20 in his only game against the Mets. He gave up four runs and eight hits while walking three and hitting a batter in five innings.

Cincinnati could have Darnell McDonald starting in center field again if Willy Taveras hasn’t recovered from the flu.

McDonald, a 30-year-old outfielder with a total of 22 career games, went 1-for-3 and scored the Reds’ lone run Monday. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training and had never made an opening-day roster in the majors.

“When Dusty and (general manager) Walt (Jocketty) told me, I felt like crying,” McDonald told the team’s official Web site. “I worked hard to get to this point and have an opportunity to play in the big leagues.”