CINCINNATI -- While the Mets revel in the Opening Day performance of their revamped bullpen, the pitcher who was to have been their closer this season is preparing to take a significant step in what he now considers his likely 2009 return to the big leagues.

Billy Wagner, seven months removed from surgery to repair a ligament and a muscle in his left arm, is to be in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Tuesday with the intention of throwing off a mound.

Wagner said as much Wednesday afternoon, speaking from his home in Virginia. He had spoken earlier with general manager Omar Minaya.

Wagner said he has been throwing regularly -- "long, long toss" and to a catcher on flat ground -- and following a program prescribed by Chris Correnti, the trainer who had come to the Mets at the urging of Pedro Martinez, and who now is the club's Minor League pitching rehab trainer.

"I do exactly what I'm told," Wagner said. "But I'm going to break the rules by getting back before they expect it. ... With no big setbacks, I'm kinda shooting for late in July or August. But we'll see. I know I have a lot of hurdles. I told Omar [that] everybody doubting me is my motivation. ... that, and getting a ring.

"I'm going to get back. I'm not going to get any saves. But I'd like to help. That could be some bullpen."

Wagner intends to travel Monday, throw off a mound Tuesday and Thursday after periods of long toss, and then return home.

"I think they need to see where I am," Wagner said. "The want me to throw about six times a week for two months, because I'm a reliever. Then I'll go back down [to Florida] in June and get myself in shortened Spring Training and get in some games."

Wagner, who turns 38 in late July, underwent surgery Sept. 8 to repair the medial collateral ligament in his left elbow and a muscle, the flexor pronator, in his forearm.

Wagner, who ranks sixth all-time in career saves with 385 -- he needs six to pass fifth-place Dennis Eckersley -- was well aware of how the Mets' re-aligned bullpen performed Monday in a 2-1 victory against the Reds. Sean Green entered the game in the sixth inning with the tying run on second base and two out, then retired his four batters. J.J. Putz allowed a walk and nothing else in the eighth, and Frankie Rodriguez retired the side in order in the ninth to earn the save.

"Impressive," Wagner said. "I know what it's like. I'm happy for all of them."

Wagner also noted that the quiet seventh and eighth innings made K-Rod's job easier in the ninth.

"It's not easy, I'm not saying that," Wagner said, "but when you get that kind of pitching before the closer comes in, his job is different. It's only one run, but they've got no momentum. They've already been deterred."

The Mets didn't have much of a deterrent in the seventh and eighth innings last season.

"I'd face a team that just scored two or three the previous inning," Wagner said. "They were hot. That's why when Aaron [Heilman] and Duaner [Sanchez] were so good in 2006, my job was so much easier. [The opposing hitters] would come up in the ninth all aggressive, trying to make something happen. That's an advantage for the pitcher.

"The guys in the seventh and eighth can dictate where the game is going. And if that's what they've got with those three, they oughta be in good shape."