Johan Santana a big hit during live batting practice

Mets pitcher Johan Santana looks in for the

Mets pitcher Johan Santana looks in for the sign during his first live batting session of spring training. (March 1, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Johan Santana displayed the gravitational pull of Jupiter as he warmed up Thursday.

The moment that Santana climbed the mound, the modest crowd milling about the Mets' spring-training complex immediately pressed up against the chain-link fence as reporters and TV cameras formed a half-moon behind the batting cage.

David Wright, bat in hand, glanced toward Santana from the on-deck circle and yelled, "Awww yeah!" As much as Santana had looked forward to facing hitters again for the first time in five months, the Mets were just as eager for it to happen.

"He's the go-to guy," manager Terry Collins said. "He sets a standard for excellence that everybody else follows."

Santana himself admits that he's still trying to get back to that standard, and Thursday was another big step in that direction with a pair of 20-pitch innings during live batting practice. He jawed with his teammates, stormed around the mound and flashed the occasional mischievous grin in between fastballs, changeups and sliders.

"You can tell everything you need to know about Johan just by the way he's acting," Wright said. "What he's saying, his body language. Obviously, today he was having fun, joking around, and that's a pretty good indication of how he's feeling."

It's been so far, so good for Santana, who is lined up to make his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday. The plan for that start is two innings, at a max of 40 pitches. The Mets also will keep a close eye on the days leading up to that outing.

"That's the process I want to go through -- to build up from one start to another," Santana said. "To see if I'm able to recover so I'm able to go back again five days later."

As for Thursday's show, Santana certainly got his teammates' attention, even if he wasn't up to Cy Young form. As Daniel Murphy pointed out, it's still very early. "He wasn't 92-93," he said. "But it's March 1, and I think we're more concerned about arm slot and working all of his pitches. As long as he's got that changeup in his back pocket, he's going to be all right."

Wright got Santana fired up with a little playful trash-talking, a carry-over from rehabbing together last summer.

"That's one of those things where you get the testosterone going, you start running your mouth," Wright said. "We both talk our fair share. I owned him in rehab and still own him."

Santana nearly cracked Ike Davis' bat with a changeup that he slapped off the end of the barrel. As for his fastball's velocity, the two-time Cy Young winner knows that's going to be a very popular subject in the days ahead. When asked how much his velocity might increase from now to the end of spring training, he shrugged.

"I have no clue," he said. "I'm not worried about velocity right now. I'm not worried about hitters. I'm only worried about feeling good and making sure my arm is fine, and everything builds up from there."

Pitching coach Dan Warthen didn't notice any "red flags" and there have been no setbacks. The only wrinkle in his schedule was getting pushed back from Monday to Tuesday to shoehorn in another long-toss session. "To me, I always base velocity on how hitters swing at the pitch, how they react to it," Warthen said. "Leaving spring training, everybody is going to gain a couple of miles an hour. As soon as you get to a night game, with 40,000 people, you automatically do that."

The Mets hope to get Santana to New York for the start of the season. As long as he can pitch, they'll take their chances.

"We've got to get him to April," Collins said. "We've got to get him out of this camp. I told him, 'Don't think for one second that you have to show these guys what you can do -- you'll show them in April. If we get you out of this camp healthy, with the progressions involved, that's all we're looking to do.' "

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