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04/05/09 2:36 PM ET

Weather a factor in Johan's start

Opener forecast has Manuel thinking ahead with 'pen

NEW YORK -- Rain showers promise to greet the Mets on Opening Day in Cincinnati, along with mixed rain and possibly snow come late afternoon. Nice weather, eh, Johan?

"You can't control the weather," said Johan Santana, Monday's starting pitcher. "We have to make sure we stay nice and warm. Somehow."

It should be a rude introduction to April weather, which leans more toward winter in the cities of the Northeast and Midwest. Despite temperatures peaking in the high 60s in southern Ohio on Sunday, the Mets aren't expecting Monday's thermometer to break the low 40s. It will almost certainly rain, and it will possibly snow.

It is baseball weather in a most unorthodox form.

"But they have to play in it, too," the newest Met, Gary Sheffield, said.

True, the Reds do, and their Opening day starter, Aaron Harang, will face all the same challenges that Santana will. But that doesn't make it any more comfortable.

It's not so much the weather, however, that will prevent Mets manager Jerry Manuel from using Santana in the fashion he was accustomed to at the end of last year. In an effort to ease his ace into the season, Manuel will instead use him how he did last April and May, when Santana went eight consecutive starts to open the season without pitching more than seven innings.

Immediately, and as they first anticipated last December, the baseball strategy will change.

"What we hope to do is to have some type of lead at some point, so now we match up bullpens," Manuel said. "And we feel very good about ours at this point."

Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz are the keys. Sean Green, Pedro Feliciano and Bobby Parnell should help. It's almost an entirely different group that the one that took most of the blame for the team's late-season collapse last year, and so finding new perspectives is not difficult.

That's not to say the Mets are ignoring last year or the year before. Instead, they've accepted the reputation they've acquired from those two disappointments and will look to spend this season shedding it. Doing so in April, May or June is impossible. Only if the Mets win late in the year -- something they can't do yet, no matter how good they are -- will they overcome what happened in 2007 and '08.

"That's just what you carry when you come to the Mets," Manuel said. "And that's OK. If you can handle it, we'll be OK.

"I really think it's something that we'll carry until we win a championship. That's just part of it. It's unfair, but it's who we are."

Still, snowy Cincinnati will bring the Mets one game closer to the opportunity to shed all that. It is the only diversion the Mets have at this point.

"Everything's going to start tomorrow, and from there we go," Santana said. "But we cannot think or pretend we're something we are not, until we have it in our hands."

Instead, they'll have to remain who they are: a collection of awfully talented players that -- for whatever reason -- has fallen short of October for back-to-back seasons. With Santana, they were stronger last year than the year before. And with K-Rod and Putz, they feel now that they are stronger still.

They seem that way, at least.

"You have to say we're better than we were last year when we started," general manager Omar Minaya said. "And not only when we started, but definitely when we finished."

The major offensive addition came this weekend, when the Mets added Sheffield in the hope that he can supplement the offense with some right-handed power. Taking his first swings at a Citi Field workout on Sunday morning, Sheffield shot line drives into shallow left field before parking two of them over the fence in his final four swings.

The stadium doesn't play as big as advertised during batting practice -- Ryan Church drilled two balls off the facing of the Pepsi Porch in right -- but it does still play big. And Sheffield's swings were a bit of proof that he can still hit with power and presence.

He's the latest piece of a lineup that already ranked among the league's best. The Mets can also pitch -- they know that. And they're certain they can win, even in the snow.

"I'm excited," Manuel said. "We're healthy. We're looking forward to it. We can't wait to get going."

Mets bits: To make room for Sheffield, the Mets optioned rookie Nick Evans to Triple-A Buffalo on Sunday. They will make another move when they need to put fifth starter Livan Hernandez on the roster next week. ... The Mets officially placed outfielder Angel Pagan, reliever Billy Wagner and starting pitcher Tim Redding on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 27. ... Manuel announced his Opening Day lineup on Sunday. Daniel Murphy will bat second, Church will hit sixth and Luis Castillo will bat eighth. Jose Reyes will lead off.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.