Mets ace deGrom whiffs 5 of 6 batters in 1st rehab start

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FILE - New York Mets' Jacob deGrom delivers a pitch during the first inning of the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday, July 7, 2021, in New York. New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom is finally ready to begin a minor league rehab assignment. Sidelined by injuries since last July, the two-time Cy Young Award winner is scheduled to start Sunday night, July 3, 2022 for Class A St. Lucie against the Jupiter Hammerheads.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

NEW YORK (AP) — Back in a game at last, Jacob deGrom was sharp.

The New York Mets ace struck out five of the six batters he faced and threw 18 of 24 pitches for strikes Sunday night in his first minor league rehabilitation start for Class A St. Lucie.

The only hiccup for deGrom against the Jupiter Hammerheads in Port St. Lucie, Florida, came when he hit a batter with a pitch.

As deGrom warmed up in the bullpen before the game, more than a dozen of the young St. Lucie players gathered behind him to watch his regimen.

It was the first competitive outing since spring training for deGrom, sidelined all season because of a stress reaction in his right scapula that caused inflammation. The two-time Cy Young Award winner also missed the second half of last season with right forearm tightness and a sprained elbow — he hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 7, 2021.

As he builds up arm strength and stamina, the 34-year-old right-hander will need several minor league rehab outings before he’s ready to rejoin New York’s rotation.

General manager Billy Eppler likened the process to a typical spring training progression, and manager Buck Showalter said deGrom won’t return until he’s stretched out enough that he could pitch five innings or more.

So the likelihood is deGrom won’t be back in the big leagues until at least late July, after the All-Star break.

Fellow ace Max Scherzer (5-1, 2.54 ERA) is scheduled to return from a strained left oblique muscle and start for the Mets on Tuesday night at Cincinnati. Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, got hurt May 18 against St. Louis and recently made two rehab starts for Double-A Binghamton.

New York leads the NL East by 3 1/2 games over defending World Series champion Atlanta.

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