PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It was at its core a mundane task, exactly the type of thing that defines the monotony of spring training. But even the most ordinary chore can take on more significant meaning when it's done by an extraordinary talent.
Which is why a crowd flocked to a corner of the Mets' sprawling spring training complex Sunday, where Mets lefthander Johan Santana threw off a mound for the first time since injuries cut short his 2012 season last August.
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"You always worry about how you feel and everything," said Santana, whom the Mets are counting on to help fill the void after trading Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. "But at the same time, I'm just trying to get my job done and not trying to overdo things out there."
Despite sunny skies, whipping winds dragged the temperature to about 40 degrees, hardly ideal conditions for Santana's first mound session in months. Nevertheless, with a mix of media, coaches and team executives watching closely, Santana let loose for the first time in camp.
"He said he felt fine," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "It was just cold. He wanted to make sure to get his throwing in."
Santana threw about 20 pitches, doing nothing more than trying to establish the proper release point for his pitches. Once finished, he joined the other pitchers for fielding practice.
"First time in a while, but it was fine," Santana said. "I don't think it was my best or anything, but it's Day One. You've got to get started at some point. Today was the beginning for me."
Since the Mets shut him down last August, a concession brought forth by lingering injuries and concern about his surgically repaired left shoulder, the 33-year-old Santana has limited his work to light throwing and conditioning. The mound had been foreign territory until Sunday.
"After a while, not throwing off the mound, you don't know what to expect," said Santana, who was glad to get his first session out of the way. "You don't know the mechanics and everything. You don't want to bounce the first one, but that was fine."
Santana's goal in spring training is different from a year ago, when his efforts went mostly toward coming back from shoulder surgery. This year, the mission is simply getting prepared to take the mound on Opening Day. That means the regular routine of bullpen sessions, live batting practice and eventually games.
Collins said Santana is on track to start a Grapefruit League game March 2. He will start at a baseline of 35 to 40 pitches, eventually ramping up from there. Said Collins, "We know he's healthy. We know he's rested. So we'll just make sure he doesn't skip a beat, which he's not. I don't think he's going to."
Santana has spoken often about the value of returning to a routine. He has shed the specially crafted workout plans of last spring training and intends to participate in stretching and drills with the rest of the team's pitchers. And even as the crowd gathered Sunday, snapping cellphone photos of Santana on the mound, the pitcher looked at ease while he finished off another routine task.
"I'm just going to make adjustments as we go and try to just go one bullpen at a time and build up from there," Santana said. "Right now, that's what we've got planned. In the next couple of days, I'm going to throw another one and see how we go. And then from there, we start facing hitters all the way to games. So that's what we have done in the past, and that's what we're trying to do."