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Santana brilliant as Mets beat Braves, 3-0

Johan Santana threw seven scoreless innings while showing

Johan Santana threw seven scoreless innings while showing increased velocity. (July 11, 2010) Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

The Mets will have a slightly different look for the second half of the season, which begins Thursday in San Francisco after the All-Star break.

They'll have Carlos Beltran in centerfield. They'll have Angel Pagan in rightfield and Jeff Francoeur on the bench most days. They hope to have a healthy Jose Reyes at shortstop for the duration.

And perhaps most important of all, they hope to have the Johan Santana who finished the first half on a 16-inning scoreless streak. The Santana who has a 61-19 record after the break. The Santana who threw seven shutout innings Sunday in a 3-0 win over the Braves at Citi Field that ended a three-game losing streak.

The Mets are looking forward to the return of Beltran on Thursday. They have no idea how his surgically repaired right knee will hold up to major-league action, but even an 80-percent Beltran should help. And Reyes is a question mark until his strained oblique heals.

Santana appears to be back to 100 percent. He has allowed one run in his last 23 innings to reclaim the Mets' ace role from struggling Mike Pelfrey.

If the Mets are to make a run at the NL East crown - they are four games behind Atlanta after dropping two of three in the series - they'll need Santana to pitch like his two-time Cy Young Award self for the next 2½ months.

"I'm feeling good," he said after limiting the Braves to five hits and three walks and striking out five. "That's all I can say right now. I think the way the season started for me and the way I am right now, I've made some improvements, and I'm feeling much better."

Santana (7-5, 2.98 ERA) has shown improvement in his last three starts at the same time that his fastball has crept back up to the low 90s. He ended the Braves' biggest threat Sunday - bases loaded and two outs in the fourth in a 1-0 game - by striking out Derek Lowe on three consecutive fastballs, the last one 92 mph.

Yes, it was only the opposing pitcher, but Santana had been living dangerously in the low 80s. There hadn't been enough separation with his signature changeup, but now there is.

The only other time the Braves threatened - runners on first and second with two outs in the third - Santana got Chipper Jones to pop out to first on a changeup.

"It's encouraging," manager Jerry Manuel said. "We feel we've gotten a guy back that lately has found his stuff. He was outstanding again today. So we'll look forward to watching him continue this performance hopefully the rest of the year."

The Mets, as is their habit when Santana pitches, didn't score many runs.

They took a 1-0 lead in the third when Pagan tripled with two outs and scored on Alex Cora's single to centerfield.

Before the game, Manuel said Pagan (3-for-5) will pretty much displace Francoeur in rightfield when Beltran is in the lineup. Pagan has earned the nod with stellar play, which includes a team-leading .315 batting average.

Beltran will return as the cleanup hitter, which will push Ike Davis to fifth. Davis drove in the Mets' second run Sunday with a 430-foot home run to the left of the Home Run Apple in centerfield. It was the rookie's 11th of the season.

Pinch hitter Josh Thole had an RBI single in the eighth to give Francisco Rodriguez extra cushion for his 1-2-3 ninth inning and 21st save.

The Mets dispersed for the break with Reyes and David Wright taking the Wilpon jet to Anaheim for the All-Star Game - Reyes will not play - and Manuel heading home to Sacramento.

They will reconvene Thursday for the start of an 11-game trip with plans for a special second half. Or at least hopes for one.

"We'll see at the end where we're at," Santana said.

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