Noah Syndergaard has grown and evolved, and is dominant once again
It looks like one skipped start is just what Noah Syndergaard needed.
It was just 3 1/2 weeks ago the Mets needed to slot Steven Matz back into the rotation. Given Syndergaard was struggling on the mound and had a sample size suggestive he was struggling on the road, it seemed like an opportune time to skip the right-hander from Mansfield, Texas to afford him some rest, curb his innings count, keep him from struggling in a place they feared he would, and get Matz back into the rotation.
And it all worked out, perhaps better than they would have ever expected.
In three starts since his hiatus, Syndergaard has a 3.48 ERA. But that does not fairly indicate how good he’s been, as in that 3.48 ERA represents two bad pitches accounting for five runs: one was a three-run home run to Carlos Beltran and the other was a two-run home run to Brian McCann during the Subway Series.
Takeaways those five runs, and Syndergaard has allowed just three runs in three starts since returning from his time off.
“I feel like probably the best I’ve ever felt goes back to the Atlanta start. But I felt pretty amazing tonight,” the big right-hander said.
How he felt was clearly representative in the results, as Syndergaard put together his finest start to date on Friday night against the Reds, mowing them down for 7 2/3 innings while allowing two runs with 11 strikeouts, more than enough for his ninth win of the season.
At one point, Syndergaard retired 16 in a row until he allowed a solo home run to Brennan Bosch. He allowed another base runner before being lifted for Eric O’Flaherty, who allowed his inherited run to score, charged to the ledger of Syndergaard.
But once again, even his line on Friday night was not representative of how well he pitched.
One indication of Syndergaard’s dominance was in his fastball, which he had impeccable command of down in the strike zone on Friday. He threw 55 fastballs four-seam and two-seam fastballs on Friday, 45 of them for strikes, and the Reds got only three hits off of that pitch in 7 2/3 innings.
But while his fastball was spotless, a key difference for Syndergaard was his willingness and ability to execute his entire arsenal. He used his change-up effectively, used his curveball early and often, and even teased the Cincinnati hitter with a slider a couple of times, a new weapon he’s been working on.
“I was able to locate my fastball to both sides of the plate. [Travis d’Arnaud] and I had a perfect game plan going. I was able to throw my offspeed pitches for strikes and get some swings and misses on it, and I had a really good feel for my changeup tonight.”
Another area which Syndergaard has struggled in all year is in the first and sixth innings. He had allowed 14 runs in 22 starts in the first inning heading into Friday, 16 in 18 instances in the sixth inning.
He allowed only one hit combined in both frames on Friday night. And Terry Collins credits Syndergaard’s willingness to mix his pitches for that success.
“One of the things he talked about was using his offspeed stuff in the first inning. Show them you’ve got it. And he used it,” Collins explained.
Collins believes Friday night was Syndergaard’s best start of the year.
“Tonight was the best one he’s had,” the manager said. “That’s a good lineup. They have four All-Stars in the middle of the lineup. To go out and go through them like he did is pretty impressive.”
Syndergaard exorcised some (perceived) demons on Friday night. The team had taken notice to Syndergaard’s problems away from Citi Field, so much so it was possible it could affect their rotation plans come October.
For the second time in three starts, he was outstanding on the road. He has lowered his ERA to 4.23 away from Citi Field in 2015.
Second, he’s showing fatigue is not, or is no longer a factor for him despite pitching in a career-high 143 innings in 2015.
Lastly, as Collins said, Syndergaard has shown incredible maturity in his ability to adjust from start-to-start and in-game with his ability to change his program, mix his pitches, and mix speeds off his 98-100 mph fastball. On Friday in particular, his off-speed made his fastball – which hasn’t deviated in velocity throughout his most recent struggles – that much more effective because he used it regularly, often times pitching backwards to keep the Reds off-balanced.
All of this growth has reaffirmed Syndergaard’s status in the postseason.
Said Collins, ““You’re not going to see him pitch in the seventh inning. I can tell you that. He’s going to start the game, whatever game it may be. I’m very impressed. This kid has really gotten better. I hope he learned a lot from tonight because he did an outstanding job against a good lineup.”