Just a few days removed from a disheartening loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, Noah Syndergaard fought his way back on track with one of his more impressive outings of the season. In the Mets’ 5-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants, Syndergaard lasted just six innings, but allowed just two runs on five hits while walking just one batter and striking out six as he improved to 9-3 on the year.
Not a single base was stolen in last night’s outing, with much of the credit going to Syndergaard’s own ability to quicken his delivery to home plate.
“He’s been working on just quickening up his delivery,’’ manager Mickey Callaway explained in the postgame conference. “He doesn’t have to be a 1.1 [seconds] to home, but he has to be a 1.35 to 1.4 range, to give our catchers a chance. They’ve been working diligently; there’s a lot of different things, a lot of different ideas they can work on. But it’s going to take reps, it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take paying attention to the situation, by Noah, to get it done.’’
Perhaps more impressive than the flamethrower’s ability to hold runners on was his confidence and effectiveness in spots that featured baserunners not only threatening to score, but also called for him to incorporate this new aspect of his mechanics in some relatively dicey situations mid-start.
Almost all of the damage (a term used loosely given the bigger picture of Syndergaard’s performance) came about in the third inning, when the Giants opened with singles from Austin Slater and Gorkys Hernandez and brought both runners home on a slew of ground balls – one a fielder’s choice off the bat of leadoff man Steven Duggar and the other a seeing-eye single from Joe Panik. Syndergaard allowed just three baserunners after the third, as he recovered a feel for his fastball and continued to pump out strikes.
By the end of the frame, Syndergaard had thrown 44 pitches – 36 for strikes. While his first two frames sent six men down just as they had come up to the plate, even the rocky third saw 14 out of his 18 pitches come in as strikes. The last ten pitches of Syndergaard’s third were all strikes. And considering the inning abruptly began with runners making their way to first and third, Syndergaard’s ability to knuckle up and attack his opponents proved especially clutch.
Syndergaard had fluctuated between 96-100 mph on his fastballs and sinkers in last night’s affair, but seemed to have a better overall gameplan. Be it a means of compensating or a simple change in mindset, the narrative itself never changed, not even as the Giants forced their way into deep counts later on. The fourth inning began with Brandon Belt flying out to center field to conclude a nine-pitch at-bat and continued less fortuitously after Evan Longoria, on his eighth pitch, beat the shift with a slap hit to right. Now walking a tightrope with a fastball closer to 95-96 mph, Syndergaard lost Brandon Crawford to a five-pitch walk, prompting a mound visit from catcher Kevin Plawecki.
Whatever light it was that the visit evidently turned on, the switch remained in place through the rest of the night. Syndergaard first struck out Slater on four pitches, the last a 99 mph sinker that cuffed him into a check-swing. One pitch and one 5-3 putout later, Syndergaard’s 27-pitch fourth inning had finally come to an end.
“Felt great. It felt like Plawecki and I had a great game plan,” Syndergaard said in a clubhouse interview following the team’s fourth win in five games. “I just stuck with my four-seam, threw the two-seam fastball in counts that I needed to, inducing contact to get the ground ball, but overall I think it was a great game and a step in the right direction.”
In a manner antithetical to most of his season, however, Syndergaard came out for the fifth and showed remarkable maturity. With one down following a three-pitch strikeout of opposing pitcher Casey Kelly, Syndergaard was again forced to shell out eight pitches, nonetheless holding his own as he induced a weak flyout from Duggar. Even after Panik had scooted another hit to erase the possibility for a 1-2-3 inning and Buster Posey jumped ahead 2-0, Syndergaard whipped out a changeup to induce a weak groundout in front of the mound.
As fate had played out through most of his night, Syndergaard would hit yet another a two-strike snag with two away in the sixth inning, as Crawford fouled and took his way into a full count. Even if he took a little longer than anticipated, Syndergaard still won the battle, freezing the shortstop inside with a four-seam fastball on the inside corner. The righty had not only hit his stride early on with his offspeed pitches, but still went out with a 99 mph fastball to complement an equally sharp sinker that only improved as the game continued.
All in all, four specific at-bats comprised 33 of the 101 pitches Syndergaard threw in his win. Only one such plate appearance ended in the hitter’s favor, however. It definitely would have served him better long-term to pitch to contact, but considering the other 68 pitches that he had spread over 20 at-bats, there’s definitely a silver lining to Syndergaard’s night in terms of overall efficiency.
Syndergaard’s 73% strike rate last night was his best such figure since April 26, when he just fell short of an eight-inning performance in St. Louis. Syndergaard’s 64 game score is his fourth-highest mark of the year, and his best since he went seven innings in a home victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was also his third quality start since returning from the disabled list in mid-July.