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Dillon Gee a whiz in return to rotation

JUPITER, Fla. -- Dillon Gee did not want to regain a rotation spot through a major injury to a teammate. His reintroduction to starting in the spot vacated by Zack Wheeler nonetheless began Thursday with resounding success.

As Wheeler heads for Tommy John surgery, Gee tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-1 split-squad win for the New York Mets against the Houston Astros in Port St. Lucie.

Gee previously had made four straight relief appearances in Grapefruit League play.

The target for the next outing should be five innings and 65 pitches.

"I was almost a little nervous for today -- just having to start again," Gee said. "It's exciting. And I get adrenaline every time I get to do something I really love to do. It was nice. I tried to stay within myself and work on things and take it for what it was, but it was exciting to get back out there and do what I like to do."

Jose Altuve ambushed Gee for a double on the first pitch of the game -- a fastball down the middle. Gee allowed only one other hit along with two walks the reminder of his outing.

"It caught me by surprise, but it got me in gear a little bit," Gee said about Altuve's shot. "I said, 'OK, this is real. Let's go.'"

Gee was scripted for 50 pitches. So when pitching coach Dan Warthen pulled him three pitches shy of that total with still one out required to complete the fourth inning, Gee good-naturedly gave Warthen a hard time.

"I was giving Dan heck about taking me out with three pitches left," Gee said. "I had 47 pitches. I said, 'I have three more pitches. I can get out of this.' But I guess he had seen enough."

Gee said he can relate to Wheeler's current emotions. Gee missed the second half of the 2012 season after undergoing surgery to address a blood clot in his right shoulder. He missed two months last season with a strained right lat muscle.

"I talked to him after we found out he was hurt and just tried to express my sympathy for him," Gee said. "Obviously he's a good friend of mine and I feel bad that happened to him. ... He's going to come back even better than he is now, and healthy. That guy has a very bright future, and he'll have a spot when he gets back. But I do know what it's like to miss time. It's never fun."

Gee had been 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA in eight starts before landing on the disabled list last season. After his return, he went 4-7 with a 4.78 ERA in 14 starts the rest of the way.

Gee said he got away during last year's second half from what had made him successful. On a staff full of flamethrowers, he tried to ramp up his fastball to a relatively modest 92 mph, rather than just be content with the 88-91 mph at which he normally sits. His arm angle became higher after the DL return, which Gee noticed this offseason while studying video from all the way back in his college years. With the increased oomph and higher arm slot, his pitches became straighter and more hittable.

"Be good at what you're good at," Gee said. "That's what it comes down to."

During this spring training while working in relief, Gee focused each outing on trying to make sure two pitches were sharp entering a game. Thursday's nearly four-inning workload allowed him to make sure all four of his pitches got polished.

"The last few outings out of the bullpen I was not afforded the time to work on a lot of pitches, so I just need to take this time to really refine all four -- because I need all four as a starter," Gee said. "And it felt good today."