Noah Syndergaard, and his challenge with the, ‘mental side’ of pitching
Noah Syndergaard’s first season in the big leagues most certainly has had more highlights than lowlights.
After all, he’s 8-6 with a 3.19 ERA in his first 19 big league starts. That’s really good for a first-year pitcher, and is a big reason why the Mets are where they are with 37 games to go.
But recently, the rookie right-hander has been struggling with his consistency, and the team has been searching for ways to solve those problems, specifically on the road in which he entered his start against the Phillies on Tuesday 0-5 with a 5.05 ERA in nine starts away from Citi Field.
At times on Tuesday, Syndergaard looked dominant, especially early on when he struck out four of the first six batters he faced, featuring one of the most electric fastballs he’s had all year long. He didn’t have great command of his off-speed pitches, particularly his curveball. But they only managed to put one of his curves in play the entire night and didn’t do anything with it when he did throw it for strikes.
“Tonight I felt like I had some of the best stuff I’ve had all season,” Syndergaard said after the game.
His problems lately hardly have to do with his stuff. On Tuesday in particular, it was tantalizing from start to finish.
“His stuff’s certainly good enough,” Manager Terry Collins said Tuesday night. “It’s all about the mental side.”
Indeed, Syndergaard’s problems right now are boiling down to his approach and becoming a one-pitch pitcher when he gets in trouble. It’s almost as if he’s pitching defensively rather than aggressively in those situations, but it only makes matters worse for him.
That was the case on Tuesday when Syndergaard ran into trouble in the third inning.
After allowing a leadoff ground rule double to Carlos Ruiz, he retired the next two batters, using all of his pitches in the process. But he got a little lost at that point.
He allowed a two-out, two-run home run to Freddy Galvis. Then, after Odubel Herrera reached on an error by Kelly Johnson, Syndergaard clearly tightened up even more.
In the sequence to Ryan Howard, he just kept throwing four-seam fastball after four-seam fastball, and while they were in the upper-90s, Howard just kept fouling them away until he found one to drive. Syndergaard didn’t use any of his other pitches in that sequence, so it became easier for Howard to just wait him out. He did, and he took him deep for the two-run home run of the frame.
It can be argued he never should have faced Howard in that situation, and those two runs were indeed unearned. But Syndergaard did have to face Howard, and perhaps because he was struggling with the command of his breaking pitch, he became one-pitch happy, and it cost him once again.
Dan Warthen came out to the mound following the home run to Howard, and it was clear he told the young right-hander to start using all of his pitches. He did and he basically dominated the Phillies for his final two innings of his outing which was good enough for his first win on the road this season.
But this was similar to the problem he had in his start against the Orioles at Camden Yards last week when he kept throwing Jonathan Schoop too many curveballs. He finally hung one on the inner half and Schoop took him deep, and it cost the Mets a lead.
It was also a problem in his start against the Rockies at home in his start before that as well.
There could be some reasoning behind these four most recent uneven performances, during which he’s 2-1 with a 5.57 ERA in only 21 innings.
As Collins said, it’s possible Syndergaard has hit a wall mentally. He’s in uncharted territory with his innings count already, having thrown 12 more innings than he did in 2014. It’s the challenge of being a rookie in this league, and something the team has had to find a way to overcome in prior years with their other pitchers.
In addition. the book is also now out on Syndergaard, as the league has clearly begun to adjust to his program in these starts. It’s up to him now to adjust back. That’s a part of the mental struggle he’s dealing with right now as well.
The Mets intend to skip Syndergaard in the rotation, perhaps sooner rather than later. He could probably use the time off to relax, reflect and prepare himself for the stretch drive. It sounds as though they might skip Syndergaard on the road -where he has struggled – which is sensible as it wouldn’t make as much sense to skip him at Citi Field, a place he’s dominated in this season.
This is nothing abnormal for a young starting pitcher. All-in-all, Syndergaard is dealing with all of this just fine, and in a critical role down the stretch of a pennant race as well.
He’s a special and unique talent, and once he clears himself of this struggle, he emerge as one of the most formidable figures in the game.