In this afternoon’s 10-3 drubbing at the hands of the Miami Marlins, starter Noah Syndergaard was pegged with the loss. The righty allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits – one a three-run homer from first baseman Neil Walker in the third inning and another a leadoff blast off the bat of shortstop JT Riddle in the fourth.
Syndergaard allowed multiple homers in just two starts through all of the regular season last year, with the most recent of such starts behind the pair coming in a road affair against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 11, 2016.
The long-ball from Walker in the third brought an end to a rather dubious sequence of events, many of which transpired outside Syndergaard’s control. For starters, only two of the three runs plated were earned, with the lead runner – minor league catcher Santiago Chavez – reaching on an error by first baseman Dominic Smith. After Syndergaard extorted a cue ball up the front of the first base line, Smith awkwardly picked it before losing control of the ball on a one-handed tag.
The next batter, center fielder Lewis Brinson, rolled another slider through a vacated hole in the right side of the infield – one that arguably would have been filled had the Mets’ middle infield not been in double play depth – a shift necessitated by the leadoff error.
There is no stock in vindicating Syndergaard for promptly grooving a first-pitch fastball to Walker, just as there is ultimately no sense in venerating the righty’s performance when, on some other occasions, Miami pounced on weak pitches. The Marlins came within a few feet of scoring their first run (or more) in the second inning, when left fielder Austin Dean singled on a hanging slider and designated hitter Isaac Galloway proceeded to wallop a first-pitch four-seamer to the warning track.
Dean would be gunned down at home to end the inning thanks to a strong relay throw from Andres Gimenez, and in this respect, maybe the Smith error the following frame was more or less a work of karma. Riddle’s home run in the fourth came on a 2-0 changeup that hung over the middle of the plate. There were clear kinks to iron out, and it would benefit both the coaching staff and Syndergaard to continue refining the fastball ahead of the 2019 season.
With all of the negatives out on the table, it’s worth noting that just about everything else both before and after the third seemed to operate smoothly for Syndergaard, at the very worst. Overall, Syndergaard threw 50 of his 69 total pitches for strikes, while striking out eight and walking zero. Over his prior two tune-ups (a combined five and two-thirds), the righty had compiled five walks, and as his high pitch counts from last season have illustrated time and time again, control (or lack thereof) has been an Achilles heel in Syndergaard’s less dominant starts. This time, the smoking gun was a pair of offspeed pitches that simply could not be cracked.
Syndergaard struck out Brinson to open the first and right fielder Peter O’Brien to end it – both on sliders outside that sat in the 88-90 mph range. The righty brought it back at the beginning of the second inning, stumbling from a 1-2 advantage to 3-2 jam against second baseman Starlin Castro, but coming out on top with the same dastardly pitch along the outer part of the plate. While his 97-98 mph fastball today fell in line with the average speed he notched during the regular season, Syndergaard’s slider seemed to have a good two to three mph taken off. The results would continue to pay off.
Following the three-run homer from Walker to unclog the bases, Syndergaard fell behind third baseman Brian Anderson 2-0, but pushed back, pumping three fastballs by him for a strikeout before fanning O’Brien on a slider and Castro on a wicked changeup down and in.
Like Walker’s blast before it, Riddle’s homer in the fourth would not damage the righty further, as he notched two more strikeouts to leave on his own terms. Of his performance, Syndergaard described the outing as “kind of boring… wasn’t terribly good, wasn’t too bad. It was a step in the right direction. That’s really what matters [in the spring].”
Just as we saw in his first start of the spring when he worked two scoreless innings totaling 23 pitches against the Houston Astros, Syndergaard demonstrated good command, but added to it by making the most of a pitch that was evidently unhittable as he got acclimated and continued to throw strikes.
“In the first inning, [I] just [tried] to get comfortable on the mound with my footing, but later in the game it got better,” he added.
Though nothing has been officially released at the moment, Syndergaard will almost certainly make his next start at some point next week. Hopefully for the right-hander, the progress both in terms of pitch design and overall inning-to-inning efficiency continues.