As the case has been virtually all season – even transcending his strained finger and HFMD diagnoses – Noah Syndergaard had major trouble efficiently working through hitters. Over 115 pitches in just five and two-thirds innings, Syndergaard allowed four runs on two walks and eight hits while striking out five, but also allowing five stolen bases.
Going by game score alone, Syndergaard’s 47 ties for his worst performance of the season with a May 1 start against Atlanta. He averaged 4.3 pitches per plate appearance in the contest, his highest figure since an April 15 start versus the Brewers that, even then, featured 11 strikeouts and just three baserunners allowed.
By some measures, this was Syndergaard’s worst start of the season, and definitely the most revealing in terms of where and why things have failed to come into place for the righty. In fairness, four runs – only one after the first inning, mind you – doesn’t sound like a disaster, and is perhaps an equally solid testament to Syndergaard’s ability to keep his team in the ballgame. But even in his cleaner frames, Syndergaard struggled to establish his fastball, and ultimately failed to muster even one three-up, three-down inning.
Syndergaard fell behind his first two hitters, yielding a leadoff base knock to Cesar Hernandez before walking Rhys Hoskins on five pitches. Attempting to get back on track with his fastball, Syndergaard was instead tagged for a two-run double off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera, an RBI single from Nick Williams, and a double play ball from Carlos Santana that, were it not for a timely snag from Jose Bautista, would have likely scored both Cabrera and Williams. The Phillies pounced on his fastball early and often, forcing Syndergaard to make adjustments that, to his credit, limited collateral damage.
Even then, however, the righty had to exercise a concerning amount of precision with his changeup, slider, and curveball to carve himself out of his next two innings – which despite three strikeouts and just two baserunners, still commanded 34 pitches.
“I didn’t really make too many adjustments. Just tried to fine-tune my delivery throughout the course of the game. And of course, a lot of runners got on base and I didn’t do a very good job at limiting them to advance.”
The deliberation in this lost season has not been so frustrating as much as it has been the lack of consistency in his results. While Syndergaard’s second and third innings saw some growth in his ability to trust and execute his breaking pitches, his last three innings were too problematic for comfort. The bottom half saw a run come home after Roman Quinn tripled (on a fly ball that Austin Jackson arguably should have caught) and Jorge Alfaro singled him home with a broken-bat parachute hit into center field. While the circumstances wouldn’t suggest that Syndergaard lost any sort of feel, Alfaro stealing second opened an entirely new wound in the righty’s night, this one verging on embarrassing.
The pattern repeated itself into the fifth after Syndergaard recorded his first two outs on eight pitches before falling victim to a bloop hit from Santana. He then rested on his laurels while the husky veteran swiped just his second bag of the season. Alfaro stole his first two bases of the season, each time without much of a close play. Maikel Franco even nabbed a base – his first in over two years. The five steals allowed were the highest total from a Met pitcher since Syndergaard himself allowed so many in June of 2016.
In that particular start, the then-ace allowed five runs on seven hits in just three innings against the Washington Nationals. His game score then? 27… his second-worst career mark to date.
“I was working on it prior to getting hurt. And I’m still trying to get some intention with it. I’m still working on it. It’s definitely an Achilles heel of mine… It was embarrassing tonight. It’s something I’m gonna continue to work on.”
It’s important to remember that Syndergaard is clearly intent on ironing out the kinks in his game this year, and perhaps we got a chance to see that side of him as he opted to try pitching the sixth inning. After further honing the changeup on a Quinn groundout, Alfaro singled and stole a base while Syndergaard fought tooth-and-nail with opposing pitcher Aaron Nola, who ultimately struck out to conclude an eight-pitch at-bat that, to be frank, didn’t appear to have an end in sight.
Really every inning felt that way, to some degree or another. With Syndergaard’s count ranging between 16 and 21 pitches per inning, it’s hard to remain optimistic about his trajectory. Even with the breaking pitches seemingly down pat, it’s still rather difficult to grasp the fact that we’re currently using “Noah Syndergaard” and “fine-tuning” in the same context.