Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom at spring training in Port St....

Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom at spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on March 13. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Two hundred and fifty-eight days later, as Jacob deGrom finally pitched in a game again, his nervousness melted into relief. 

The Mets co-ace tossed two routine-looking innings against an Astros lineup of mostly backups Tuesday, mere exhibition action at Clover Park that nonetheless marked his first time facing another team since July 7. That was when he unknowingly made his final start of 2021 before a series of arm injuries derailed the rest of this season. 

In throwing 30 pitches (24 strikes), deGrom struck out five and walked none. The only hit against him was Lewis Brinson’s double, a hard-hit ground ball that snuck under the glove of third baseman Eduardo Escobar. 

“I was nervous, to be honest with you,” a smiling deGrom said afterward. “It’s reassuring to go out there and feel completely fine. 

“The main thing I worked on this offseason that carried over pretty well today was just being really smooth down the mound. That was the main concern today, and everything felt good. It felt like I was in sync and I was able to locate the ball pretty well. So I was happy with how the day went.” 

Manager Buck Showalter added: “The health and the freeness that he was throwing with is what you’re looking for. And then tomorrow how he feels.” 

His fastball topped out at 98 mph, according to one scout for an AL team who was in attendance. That was a tad lower than his usual hitting-100-in-his-first-spring-training-game, as consistent a rite of spring as any in recent years for the Mets. But it also was on purpose, he said.

DeGrom didn’t want to throw as hard as possible, and he hinted that might be the case more often this year. He had the fastest fastball in the majors and in his life in 2021, averaging 99.2 mph in 15 starts before his body broke down. 

“That’s something that maybe I’ll play with and see how that goes,” he said. “I’m sure there will be times when I throw as hard as I can. When I am really in sync and smooth, it feels like it comes out better than when I actually try to throw really hard.” 

In his first inning, deGrom toyed with the top of the Houston lineup. Chas McCormick struck out looking, Niko Goodrum struck out swinging and Kyle Tucker struck out looking.

The second inning was a bit more competitive, starting with Brinson lacing a grounder past Escobar and into the leftfield corner. But then Jason Castro struck out swinging, Joe Perez popped out to first baseman Pete Alonso in foul territory and Taylor Jones struck out swinging.

Watching from the dugout was Max Scherzer, deGrom’s new co-ace, who offered a dare: mix in a first-pitch curveball, an offering that deGrom has but almost never throws no matter the count. DeGrom obliged, getting Brinson to watch the pitch for strike one. 

“I did it and I looked over at [Scherzer] and laughed,” deGrom said. “It’s fun. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve been around him and already learning from him, picking his brain. He’s been in this game a long time and is going to be a Hall of Famer. So anytime you can be around guys like that, it’s awesome."

DeGrom has time for two more Grapefruit League starts — Sunday afternoon and April 1, both against the Cardinals, if he stays on schedule — before Opening Day, which is April 7 against the Nationals. That is several fewer than he would have in a regular-length spring training.

Showalter, who has preached caution throughout this condensed camp, said deGrom still can be prepared for up to five-plus innings in the first game. 

““[The Mets are] playing it smart,” deGrom said. “They don’t want to go out there and push it too much early on."

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