A refreshed Noah Syndergaard has provided reassurance for the stretch drive
It had been 13 days since Noah Syndergaard took to the mound, and on Saturday he showed up to work clearly refreshed after his two week hiatus.
“It’s been a long 13 days,” the big right-hander said after his start. I got a little anxious out there.”
But perhaps more significant than his performance, during which he dominated the Braves on a run and two hits in seven innings, was that he showed rest might have been just what he needed ahead of the most meaningful set of games for this franchise in nine years.
“It’s been a while since I was able to get out there and compete. I’m very pleased with how I pitched tonight,” Syndergaard said.
He should be. After a rough start in the first inning, Syndergaard retired 11 in a row from the middle of the first until Jace Peterson singled and was thrown out at second to leadoff the fifth. He then retired the final eight batters he faced as he was capped out at seven innings on Saturday, which will be the routine over his final three starts of the regular season.
“You’re talking about a big, strong young man,” manager Terry Collins explained after Saturday’s win. “I asked him yesterday how he felt. He said, ‘I feel terrific.’
Assuming Syndergaard throws another 21 regular season innings, he will top out at around 180 innings in 2015, or 43 more than he threw in 2014 including the Pacific Coast League playoffs.
And the club is on-board with that plan, so says Terry Collins.
“So far they are. This is his first time in September,” Collins said about managing Syndergaard. “I’m not that worried. We’ve put down this policy that we’re going to watch these innings. And we’re going to watch them.”
As for his performance on Saturday, Syndergaard’s fastball was dominant, averaging nearly 99 mph and maxed out at 100-101 mph, according to Pitch F/X data. But that wasn’t the story of his night.
It was his 90 mph change-up which made that fastball even more dominant. The Braves only put three of the change-ups they swung at in play and didn’t reach base against any of them, swinging and missing four times in total.
“He certainly had more left in him, which is a good sign as we head late into the month,” manager Terry Collins said as he marveled at Syndergaard’s performance on Saturday night.
But there was an added significance to this impressive start from Syndergaard.
He dominated away from Citi Field, something he has badly struggled with in his rookie season. Yes, it was against the Braves and a team with a fragmented roster at the moment, but as any player in that locker room will say, this is still Major League Baseball.
“It was coming out of his hand really explosive today,” Travis d’Arnaud said. “He did a good job of calming himself down if he ever overthrew. I thought he did a tremendous job.”
Syndergaard also seemed to be pitching with a purpose and an approach again. Over the last month in general, Syndergaard had become very one-pitch happy in his starts, whether it was the fastball or curveball. He had lost his rhythm, and it could have simply been attributed to the mental strains of a long season in which he was in unchartered territory.
He had thrown 152 innings between Triple-A Las Vegas and the big leagues, 19 more than he had thrown in any season prior to 2015. So it was definitely understandable he could’ve been suffering from such fatigue.
But clearly that was not the case on Saturday, as Syndergaard looked like he was making the first start of his season.
His role is apparently still up in the air for the playoffs. The Mets may still be concerned about his performance away from Citi Field, which means his role could be determined on their ability to achieve home field advantage in each round of the playoffs or not.
For instance, if the Mets have home field advantage, they could choose to put Syndergaard in the bullpen to avoid starting him in games three or four on the road. But if the Mets do not have home field advantage, he could start at home in games three or four with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom getting the first two games on the road.
The question is, are the Mets a better club with Syndergaard in the rotation, or as a late-inning power-armed reliever?
Based on his showing on Saturday, it’s hard to make a convincing argument that he belongs in the bullpen.