The final pitching line was glittering and there were even some glimmers of the old Johan Santana - a pretty changeup for a strikeout in the first inning, a dipping slider for another in the third.

But even Santana himself made it clear that three scoreless innings in his first rehab start do not a return make. Santana allowed only two hits and struck out three Thursday night, but he tempered any talk that this was some kind of breakthrough. It is merely part of the process, and even though he hopes to pitch for the Mets this season, he is also preaching caution.

"I would love to pitch (in the majors this season), no question about it," Santana said after his outing for the Class A St. Lucie Mets . "If that's going to be the case I don't really know. I really want to come back and pitch, but again, we're going to do whatever is best for me, for the whole team. Right now, we're going to go one game at a time and if the time comes and we're ready to go, we'll play.

"But if not, we continue working and getting better."