PORT ST. LUCIE — He sure resembled de Ace again.
Jacob deGrom’s return to game action Tuesday couldn’t have emitted about as many positive vibes as possible for the Mets. Unleashing a barrage of fastballs and sliders against the Astros in an exhibition game, the stud right-hander was simply himself again.
Overall, deGrom allowed one hit over two scoreless innings (30 pitches) and struck out five. His fastball peaked at 99 mph.
DeGrom had last pitched on July 7 — he missed the second half of last season with elbow issues, including a low grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. Last week deGrom had faced his teammates in an intrasquad game. This time it felt more real.
“I was nervous,” deGrom said on a night the Mets won 2-0 at Clover Park. “You face your guys, it’s more relaxed, more fun, but you get out there and there’s guys in another uniform, I was a little nervous.”
DeGrom started his night by striking out the side in the first inning. Two of those strikeouts came on sliders, with his fastball sitting in the 97-99 mph range. His first pitch of the game was a 97 mph heater to Chas McCormick.
Lewis Brinson doubled leading off the second inning before deGrom retired the next three batters, two of them on strikeouts.
“I knew I had two innings so I wanted to try to throw everything,” deGrom said. “I wish I had thrown more changeups, honestly. But I was just trying to work on fastball, slider and locate. I wanted to get more changeups in, just didn’t do it. The goal is to throw any pitch at any time. That is what this is for, trying to get our work in and be comfortable throwing a pitch in any situation.”
The plan, according to manager Buck Showalter, is to have deGrom in position to throw five-plus innings on Opening Day in Washington on April 7.
DeGrom was on a historic pace last season, pitching to a 1.08 ERA in 15 starts before his shutdown. He also battled various other ailments that affected his work schedule throughout the first half of the season, including a side injury that he attributed to swinging the bat.
In recent weeks, before the lockout concluded, deGrom said he took a conservative approach to building up for the season because he was unsure when spring training would begin.
“That’s kind of going back to trying to be smooth, not trying to throw as hard as I can and work down the slope so I am happy with how that went today,” deGrom said. “I am 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.”
Unclear is whether deGrom will be eligible to pitch at Citi Field under the current New York City vaccination mandate. The pitcher, when recently approached by The Post on the matter, declined to say if he was vaccinated. Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday wouldn’t say if he plans to lift the vaccination mandate, only saying, “They have to wait to find out what we’re going to do,” referring to the city’s sports teams. The mayor has said he is working with MLB to find a solution. The Mets are scheduled to play their first home game on April 15.
“We’ll deal with it as it comes,” Showalter said. “There’s people that are being asked in our city to do a certain thing and … when it shakes out and they tell us, ‘This is what we’ll do,’ we’ll make the adjustments.”
After leaving the mound in the second inning, knowing his night was finished, deGrom shared a light moment with new teammate Max Scherzer, whose Grapefruit League debut with the Mets occurred the previous day.
“I have enjoyed the time I have been around him and already learning from him, picking his brain,” deGrom said. “He’s been in this game a long time and going to be a Hall of Famer. Any time you can be around guys like that it’s awesome.”