PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Months had passed since either man had stared down a real-life batter. So when Mets pitchers Bobby Parnell and John Lannan returned to the mound Saturday, neither bothered to hide his excitement.
Both reached important milestones at Mets camp.
In a live batting-practice session, closer Parnell faced hitters for the first time since a neck injury ended his season last July. Later, in a 9-1 Grapefruit League loss to the Marlins, Lannan tossed two scoreless innings to launch his quest to win the fifth starter's job.
"It was a good first step," said Lannan, whose last game action came on Aug. 14 while he was a member of the Phillies.
Lannan, 29, spent much of last season essentially pitching on one leg. An MRI in August revealed a tear in his vastus medialis oblique muscle, just above his left knee. The injury made it impossible for Lannan to generate power from his back leg.
"The injury set him back a long way," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I'm sure he pitched with some pain."
Lannan eventually underwent surgery and began a slow rehab process. He signed a minor-league deal with the Mets.
"I was just excited," said Lannan, who was born in Long Beach and attended Chaminade High School. "It's been since last August since I pitched in a competitive environment."
Parnell's wait proved even longer. The righthander recorded his 22nd save on July 30 against the Marlins and never returned. A herniated disc forced Parnell to undergo surgery, after which he endured noticeable weight loss.
The Mets did not hide their concern about whether Parnell would be ready for Opening Day, but he has since eased some of those worries. Parnell has insisted that he will be ready to start the season, and the Mets are banking on him to pick up where he left off.
Parnell received an unofficial welcome-back gift three hitters into his first live batting practice when he had to dodge the remnants of Daniel Murphy's shattered bat. Otherwise, the session proved uneventful, which was just fine for the Mets.
The Mets aim to have Parnell ready to pitch in a "B" game Thursday, pitching coach Dan Warthen said. He took a clear step toward meeting that goal, throwing 36 pitches to Murphy, Eric Young Jr. and David Wright.
"I've been taking a lot of baby steps," Parnell said. "I feel great, my arm feels good, neck feels good. Everything's going well. But as far as today, this feels like a big mental hurdle. I didn't know how I would react to balls coming off the bat and I felt strong out there. I felt good and felt like I had some reaction in the neck, so everything's good."
Despite his long absence, Parnell looked comfortable as he worked against batters for the first time since the surgery.
"He threw harder as time went on," Warthen said. "He found his delivery probably about halfway through."
Parnell continues to battle a left quadriceps issue, which has forced him to do certain drills at less than full speed. But the injury hasn't sidetracked his throwing program.
"I've been looking forward to it for several weeks now," Parnell said. "I knew it was coming up. It's always different from your bullpen, seeing hitters out there. Your blood gets going a little bit."
He added, "It was a nice feeling today."