Noah Syndergaard has made some adjustments, and they showed on Sunday
Noah Syndergaard took the mound on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field having struggled for most of the month of August.
In his previous four starts entering Sunday’s game – three of which had been on the road = Syndergaard had thrown just 21 innings, posting a 5.57 ERA while holding the opposition to a .286 average, allowing 21 and eight walks with 26 strikeouts and six home runs allowed over that span.
There are a variety of theories why Syndergaard was struggling entering his start on Sunday.
The first is the notion Syndergaard simply struggles on the road, and the numbers certainly support that. He is just 1-5 with a 4.91 ERA in ten starts away from Citi Field, and he certainly didn’t do anything in his three road starts to debunk that theory. The club has been working with Syndergaard to alter his pre-game routine before his starts on the road so he’s working closer to when he takes the mound in the bottom of the first inning, rather than the top of the first inning.
Second, his pitch selection hasn’t been proper in certain spots. He has admitted during this rough patch he often has gotten either too reliant on his fastball, or not reliant enough on his fastball, and has gotten burned at various instances in-game as a result of those choices.
He’s also in unchartered territory with his innings count. Entering Sunday’s start, he had already exceeded his innings total from 2014 by 12 innings. So fatigue could certainly be an issue for Syndergaard at this point in the season.
There are also the mechanical issues he’s been working through with pitching coach Dan Warthen in between starts.
In addition, Warthen and Syndergaard have been working on the big right-hander’s tempo.
And on Sunday, Terry Collins took notice to Syndergaard’s improved pace.
Did you see how fast he worked today? I think it helped. His rhythm was much better, his timing was much better, the guy’s pace of the game was better,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “He got the ball, got on the mound and he threw it, and that kept him in sync, kept the location good.”
Collins attributes Syndergaard’s much improved performance on Sunday to that improved pace. He held the Red Sox scoreless through the first five innings before he grooved a 3-1 fastball to David Ortiz to put the Red Sox in front 2-1.
“I faced Big Papi, threw him four straight changeups and fell behind 3-1, tried to execute a fastball up and away and … left it down the middle of the plate,’’ Syndergaard explained.
He then allowed two runs in the seventh inning, althogh only one of which should’ve been charged to his ledger. He allowed a one-out single to Blake Swihart, and after Alejandro De Aza flew out, he allowed a double to Jackie Bradley Jr. which halted Swihart.
Syndergaard was lifted for Hansel Robles, and Robles actually got what he needed in a routine flyball to left to end the inning off the bat of Mookie Betts. But Michael Cuddyer got a poor jump on the ball and it landed inside the foul line for a hit which allowed Bradley to score and tie the game at four a piece.
In the end, Syndergaard was charged with four runs in 6 2/3 innings, but he pitched much better than that line would suggest.
“[Dan Warthen] and I have been working on things for the past two weeks now, just speeding up the delivery,” Syndergaard explained. “It just keeps everything nice and loose. Sometimes I tend to get a little tense.’’
He didn’t seem tense at all on Sunday. He did a fantastic job trusting his stuff and using all of his pitches right out of the gate on Sunday. As Collins said, he was crisp and worked both efficiently and ahead of the hitters all afternoon. He had good velocity and movement with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, but the key was the command of those two pitches.
He threw 67 combined four-seamers and two-seamers on Sunday, 53 of which were for strikes.
“He was very good. It was certainly a game we needed to have,’’ Collins said.
Indeed he was. Syndergaard was put in a difficult spot in the seventh inning, presumably because Collins didn’t trust his seventh inning relief solutions. That’s not unreasonable considering how much that part of the bullpen has struggled lately.
But Collins was really caught in a bind, as Syndergaard entered the seventh inning having already thrown 93 pitches.
So, he got burned anyway.
But the seventh inning should not take away from an otherwise promising start for Syndergaard. He has really struggled after being a masterful rookie for the better part of the season. Part of the challenge any player faces – especially young rookies like Syndergaard – is dealing with fatigue, dealing with scouting reports and the adjustments other teams are making against him, and fending all of that off to remain successful.
Sunday was a very positive step towards all of that.