PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets, slowly but surely, are starting to imagine Johan Santana on the mound April 5 at Citi Field. So what started out as a blurry, undeveloped vision a month ago became a little more focused with Friday's start in the Mets' 9-0 loss to the Tigers.

Santana hardly was perfect. After cruising through a 14-pitch first inning, he struggled with his location into the third and was pulled after two outs. The numbers weren't particularly pretty either: five hits, four earned runs, two walks and zero strikeouts.

But the critical statistics to note were his 65 pitches -- the most he has thrown in 18 months -- and a velocity that consistently stayed in the range of 88 to 90 mph. Combine that with the number three, as in pain-free Grapefruit League starts, and the Mets can dare to dream about seeing Santana in Flushing again.

"We're starting to reach a stage now where I think he's showing us all that he's healthy," Terry Collins said. "We can certainly be brokenhearted in two weeks. But all indications point that he's healthy, so now let's work on the finer points."

Santana has room for improvement. Not only did he struggle with the mound, which caused him to land awkwardly, but Santana was annoyed that he failed to finish off Prince Fielder and Delmon Young after jumping ahead 0-and-2 on each.

Both came in the third inning. With two outs and runners at first and third, Santana missed on four straight pitches to walk Fielder. Next up was Young, who fouled off an 89-mph fastball for strike two, then hit a 1-and-2 pitch for a two-run single. That fastball was 91 mph, but not where Santana wanted it.

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"I still have a ways to go," he said. "But I'm feeling good. I'm very happy that I'm able to -- for the third time -- go out there without any problems and be able to recover from one start to another. That's something that I didn't have in the past. It's very important for me to be able to come back on a five-day routine."

The Tigers nicked Santana for a run in the second inning on Young's one-out double and an infield hit by Andy Dirks. With the count 2-and-2 to Young, Santana threw back-to-back changeups, and he pulled the second one to leftfield. As for Dirks, he hit a 90-mph fastball for a slow roller toward third base that the hustling Josh Satin couldn't convert into an out at first.

In two weeks, Santana hopes to be turning those two-strike situations into outs rather than prolonging the innings.

"It was a tough day," Santana said. "It was a challenge out there. I was trying to locate my fastball to see if I'm able to throw my breaking balls. I did a couple of times, but I wasn't consistent throwing my fastball for strikes. That's something that you work on. But it's all about how I feel more than anything right now."

Notes & quotes: The Mets made three errors -- two on throws by Jason Bay and Garrett Olson and one in which Daniel Murphy let a grounder go through his legs. Murphy, however, deftly handling a double-play relay from Ronny Cedeno. "I want those," said Murphy, who has had only two such plays thus far. "I want as many as I can." . . . Ruben Tejada might return Sunday from a mild groin strain but could wait until Tuesday to take advantage of Monday's off day . . . Collins said David Wright (abdominal strain) probably won't see live pitching until mid to late next week, so his return to games still is another week away, at the earliest . . . The Mets still are mulling over the medical reports on C.J. Nitkowski.