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Mets ace DeGrom makes spring debut, heater hits 97 mph

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — After one exhibition start, Jacob deGrom has a 9.00 ERA. No worries, because all other signs are positive for one of the top pitchers in the major leagues. "Still plenty of time to hopefully get that down," the New York Mets ace said Sunday with a few laughs.

The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner tossed one inning and gave up Tyler White's RBI single on a 97 mph fastball in a 10-1 loss to a split squad of Houston Astros. DeGrom allowed two hits and threw 14 of his 17 pitches for strikes.

The 30-year-old righty made his spring training debut after posting a 1.70 ERA season. Often throttled by a lack of run support, he went 10-9 for the fourth-place Mets. Even after such a dominant season, deGrom isn't taking anything for granted.

"I was nervous today going out there for the first time," the lanky pitcher said. DeGrom said he began playing catch in October just a few weeks after the season ended, keeping his arm active by tossing the ball with his father. He has thrown regularly in the offseason, just a couple of times a week, since taking more time off after the lengthy 2015 campaign because of the World Series.

DeGrom later developed nerve damage in 2016 and had season-ending surgery in September. "I just feel like when I play more catch and keep my arm moving it seems to feel batter when I come to spring training. If there's no break, maybe it will stay the same," he said.

DeGrom had a few obstacles a year ago that prevented him from getting the opening day nod from manager Mickey Callaway. DeGrom left camp to be with his wife for the birth of their daughter and then battled back stiffness after his return, delaying his progress even further.

Good friend Noah Syndergaard made the start instead of him and beat St. Louis in the opener. DeGrom said his goal this year is to work on consistency and limit the running game better. "I want to try and eliminate those starts that got out of hand. It's a little bit easier said than done," said deGrom, who allowed a leadoff double to Tony Kemp.

"I'm trying to keep the focus on the pitch I'm about to throw, not the pitch I've just thrown that was a homer or whatever happened," he said. "I was a little bit frustrated today. I felt like I made a pretty good pitch to Kemp there, a high fastball that he got to. That's frustrating. But it's constantly learning to try and let that stuff go."

Said Callaway: "He's poised to go out there and dominate again, in my opinion." New catcher Wilson Ramos caught deGrom for just the second time this spring. "It's an exciting moment for me because I'm trying to know him better," Ramos said. "In the beginning of spring training, everybody wants to attack the hitter. He did it today and did it very well."

NOTES: LF Tim Tebow nearly made a diving grab on a foul fly behind the Mets' bullpen after a long run, but the ball popped out of his glove when he landed. The next half-inning, he hit a long fly that easily beat Kemp in left, but center fielder Myles Straw made a spectacular diving grab in the gap for the out. ... Callaway called the catching position "an open competition" when it came to the backup spot and said Travis d'Arnaud needed to match up his footwork with his arm. ... Callaway said pitching coach Dave Eiland has a "solid plan" for new closer Edwin Diaz in terms of spring appearances.

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