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Parnell escapes jam in season debut for Mets

Righty reliever makes first appearance for New York since Opening Day 2014

NEW YORK -- If not for his beard, his lanky gait and the No. 39 sewn onto his uniform, it would have been easy to confuse Bobby Parnell for another, lesser-known reliever. The right-handed pitcher who appeared in the eighth inning of the Mets' 5-3 loss to the Braves on Saturday topped out at 93 mph, throwing only fastballs and letting one leak over the middle of the plate.

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Parnell may not have quite resembled the closer who racked up 22 saves with a 2.16 ERA two summers ago. On this day, he wasn't even a closer, and probably won't be for the rest of the season. But Parnell nonetheless relished his long-awaited return to the mound.

"It was good to get back out there," Parnell said. "It sent chills up my spine."

It had been over 14 months since Parnell last pitched on Opening Day 2014, blowing a save that afternoon and learning, the next day, that he had a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Doctors prescribed Tommy John surgery, and that was that. Rehabbing all summer and winter and into the spring, Parnell endured several setbacks before Saturday's reappearance.

His old mid- to upper-90s velocity was still missing at Citi Field, giving Parnell little margin for error in a two-run game with two outs in the eighth. When he leaked a fastball over the middle of the plate to the first batter he faced, Jonny Gomes, the veteran hitter lashed it back up the middle for a single. But Parnell rebounded to induce an inning-ending ground ball from A.J. Pierzynski, showing flashes of the old sink that once made him so successful.

"Rusty," was how manager Terry Collins described Parnell's outing. "But I'm glad he got it out of the way. Hopefully, he got his feet wet and we move forward with it, he gets a little more comfortable and we find a good situation for him to be more consistent in games."

Because Parnell struggled so mightily on his multiple Minor League rehab assignments, walking 14 batters in 14 innings with an 11.57 ERA, there was plenty of talk that he might need more seasoning just 14 months removed from surgery. The Mets activated him anyway.

For now, Parnell is happy simply to be back on a big league mound, providing a small bright spot on an afternoon when fellow relievers Hansel Robles, Alex Torres and Carlos Torres all struggled in defeat.

"My mechanics are there," Parnell said. "I feel like the strength's there, the health's there. It felt good to be out there."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.
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