New York Mets ace Johan Santana was taking a quick rest in the dugout when he heard a female fan say, ''It's good to have you back.''
''It's good to be back,'' the two-time Cy Young Award winner replied.
It certainly appears Santana is getting close to full strength again.
The left-hander, who missed all of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery, faced hitters Thursday for the first time since tossing four innings in an Instructional League game Sept. 30.
''I felt pretty good,'' Santana said. ''I was able to throw for the first time having hitters standing up at the plate and swinging the bat. It was pretty good.
''I was told I was going to be challenged from those guys and I had to step up and do my thing. I was able to come in and throw my fastballs inside and see how they react and to be able to throw my changeup. Overall, it was good.''
The next step for Santana will be his first Grapefruit League outing. He is scheduled to start a split-squad game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday. He will throw two innings or 40 pitches, whichever comes first.
Santana threw 43 pitches during two stints Thursday, resting in between. Third baseman David Wright had the longest drive off Santana, hitting a ball to the warning track in center field. As soon as he made contact, Wright shouted to Santana, ''Oh, you got lucky!''
''He looked great,'' first baseman Ike Davis said. ''It's always good to see him on the mound. I'm sure he's obviously not throwing his opening day stuff, but his changeup was nasty - I almost broke my bat. His fastball, threw it by me and hit his spots. It didn't look like he had any trouble, no pain. It's a good thing.''
Mets manager Terry Collins was pleased that Santana didn't try to overdo it, especially with a large group of reporters on the field watching.
''He stayed within himself,'' Collins said. ''I'm sure he knows it, but he's on the team. He doesn't have to show us in BP. Just go about it, get your work done and get it in. He did that.''