PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (WFAN/AP) — To Johan Santana and the Mets, this was a most pleasant spring sight.
The lefty ace returned to the mound for his first game against major league hitters in 18 months and pitched two scoreless innings Tuesday as a Mets split squad beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-6.
Santana walked his first batter on five pitches. But a single marked the only other runner against Santana, who threw 17 of 29 pitches for strikes.
The two-time Cy Young winner last pitched to big league hitters on Sept. 2, 2010, in a game in Atlanta. Two weeks later he underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder.
“Finally I had an opportunity to go out there and finally get the first one out of the way,” Santana said. “I was excited about today. Even as I was preparing myself prior to the game, I was anxious to go out there and do it.”
“But, at the same time, it was all about how I feel,” he added. “I know it is a game situation and you have to do your job out there, but I was just focused on making sure I do the mechanics the right way and feeling good and not feeling anything in my arm, and that’s how I felt today. I felt good.”
Santana said it was an adjustment just being on the mound in a game situation again. He looked like his old self when he got Yadier Molina to swing and miss a changeup.
Mets catcher Josh Thole that pitch was the “Johan changeup everyone is used to seeing.”
“It was fun,” Thole said. “I think it should be encouraging for the whole team. He went out there and it was kind of like he just left off where he was.”
This time last year, Santana was working toward a potential return in June, but the Mets shut him down in August after he pitched just five innings with the Class A St. Lucie Mets.
Mark Hamilton recorded the only hit against Santana, singling on a 1-2 changeup in the second inning. Hamilton later hit an RBI double.
After a leadoff walk, Santana turned a nice double play on Skip Schumaker’s comebacker to the mound and ended the inning when Matt Holliday flied out.
Santana threw fastballs on all 13 of his pitches in the first inning, mostly around 87-88 mph on the radar gun and topping out at 90 mph. But he broke out his signature changeup and a few sliders in the second.
“I didn’t know what his velocity would be like having not pitched in a long time,” Holliday said. “(Throwing) 89-90 at the beginning of spring training I would say is pretty good. He looked pretty good. … He knows how to pitch so if he is healthy he is going to be effective.”
Holliday got a good swing on the 3-2 four-seam fastball he connected on, but the ball caught in the wind and dropped into the glove of center fielder Andres Torres.
“I tell you what, that would have been a home run in Arizona,” Holliday said.
Santana said the key for him now is to see how he feels over the next two days. He is scheduled to pitch again Sunday against the Miami Marlins.
“That will be the key — the next couple of days, trying to throw my bullpen and see if I’ll be ready for my next start,” Santana said.
“But, again, the way I feel right now, and the way I ended up the game today, it was good, so it’s a good sign. Hopefully we’ll be back on the mound in five games.”
Mets manager Terry Collins was encouraged to see his ace back on the mound in a game.
“This has been a great camp so far, but that might be the most positive day we had,” Collins said.
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