March 04, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Moments after Jacob deGrom blew a first-inning fastball by Josh Reddick for a strikeout, he circled the mound and caught a glimpse of the radar reading on the scoreboard: 97 mph.

''Definitely a good feeling,'' deGrom said.

Making his first start since September's surgery to reposition the ulnar nerve in his right elbow, deGrom worked two perfect innings for the New York Mets on Saturday, striking out two in a 3-1 win over Houston.

More importantly, everything flowed smoothly.

''It's a step in the right direction,'' he said. ''You say you are feeling good in the spring, but then to actually get out there in the game to throw, it definitely feels good to get back out there on the mound.''

Seeing that 97 flash on the video board prompted manager Terry Collins to tell pitching coach Dan Warthen they were watching a special spring outing.

''I really think it's important that he go out there and know that his arm is back,'' Collins said. ''We don't put a gun on them in the bullpens. I think when they go back out there they see their velocity's back. I think it's a tremendous confidence builder for them.''

After his two-inning stint, deGrom said he felt a sense of relief that he'd cleared another hurdle.

''I get nervous before every start in the season, but not normally that much in spring training,'' deGrom said. ''I think just getting out there and having the adrenaline going like in a game for the first time since surgery, I was a little nervous. I'm glad that I got up there and was able to throw the ball where I wanted to.''

The 28-year-old deGrom began the game throwing mostly fastballs before mixing in some curves, changeups and sliders.

Almost everything felt right.

''The only thing I'm not pleased with was a changeup in the dirt, but everything else I pretty much threw where I wanted to,'' he said.

The 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom became an All-Star in 2015, going 14-8 with a 2.54 ERA and striking out 205. Lat muscle discomfort kept him from feeling right early in the 2016 campaign, ultimately forcing him to the disabled list. The elbow soreness bloomed following his return.

While he wasn't terrible last season, as his 3.04 ERA indicates. He was 7-8 whole making only 24 starts - he was among several Mets pitchers slowed by injuries - and his fastball velocity hovered in the low 90s.

The dip in velocity became a constant topic after his starts.

''You say it doesn't get to you, but if somebody asks you about something enough you're thinking about it,'' deGrom said.

The lat issue, and the elbow injury led deGrom to alter his mechanics. This spring his first point of emphasis was smoothing out his delivery to keep his shoulder from flying open too early, robbing him of control and accuracy.

''I wasn't worried about his year,'' deGrom said. ''All I wanted to do was be healthy coming into the spring. I definitely feel a lot better than I did last year at this time.''

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