An Injury-Free Syndergaard Remains a Priority for the Mets

Decision time swiftly approaches for the Mets. Over the next month, the triumvirate of John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi, and Omar Minya will evaluate the big league roster and decide which pieces factor into their plans. Pitchers Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard more than likely will help see the Mets through a potential rebuild and remain contributors for the foreseeable future.

While deGrom continues pitching like a perennial ace, Syndergaard’s focus is a healthy return to the hill after spending the last six weeks nursing a finger injury. The first step for Syndergaard came in a rehab start on Sunday with the Brooklyn Cyclones, allowing two hits and one run while fanning seven in five innings in a 2-1 victory over the Staten Island Yankees.

“Today was extremely positive and a step in the right direction,” Syndergaard said. “The first inning was a little rough, but later I got into a good groove, and a good rhythm as the game went on. I just wanted to get out there and get comfortable with my delivery.”

Initially, Syndergaard sought to find consistency and battled through a troublesome first inning by reducing the damage to a single run. Navigating through a fledgling Staten Island lineup, Syndergaard expanded the strike zone, forcing hitters to chance and focused primarily on utilizing his offspeed pitchers to record strikeouts deep into counts.

“I feel comfortable using all of my pitches in any given count,” Syndergaard said. “I was kind of visualizing it as if I were facing a big league team in certain counts. With some younger guys on (an) 0-2 (count), I threw a curveball in the dirt, and of course, they would be free swinging, so I tried to stay away from them.”

“(While he’s) a power pitcher (he) was working (on his offspeed pitches), Cyclones’ manager Edgardo Alfonzo said. “He was working on his out pitches. Hopefully, he’ll feel good with that (approach). “I told the guys to get as much as you can from him since he’s one of the best pitchers in the big leagues and watch the way he acts.”

Nick Meyer, a sixth-round pick of Cal Poly, served as Syndergaard’s battery mate and helped execute his plan of attack behind the plate. Working with Syndergaard afforded Meyer the rare chance of working with an All-Star pitcher at the Short-Season level. He also developed an understanding of how to work a batting order, along with their tendencies.

“Catching him was pretty easy because he knows where everything is going,” Meyer said. “He has four pitches he can put wherever he wants and it was kind of cool to pick his brain and see what he wants to do with cutters and how he attacks guys and what he wants to do (on the mound). He taught me a lot.”

After making a rehab start in Brooklyn, the Mets will re-evaluate Syndergaard’s status and determine whether he can return to the big league club before the All-Star Break. Rejoining the starting rotation may provide a temporary boost to a ballclub continuing to search for answers after losing or splitting their last 14 series, their worst stretch since 1982.

“You just have to take it day-by-day at the ballpark and remain positive,” Syndergaard said about the current state of the Mets. “That’s still the main theme. Still, a lot of positivity and good energy coming from all the guys, so there’s still a lot of fun going to the ballpark.”

Although the non-waiver trade deadline typically signals change for a club far removed from playoff consideration, the Mets prefer to retain deGrom and Syndergaard’s services and reconstruct the roster with a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.

With just over two years of major league service time, Syndergaard remains on a team-friendly contract with incremental raises in arbitration on the table in the coming seasons. Syndergaard won’t reach free agency until after the 2022 campaign at age 29.

The Mets built their club on the premise of stockpiling young pitching, and surplus of arms, including Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz, may look to acquire position player prospects and fortify an organization lacking in young, affordable impact bats.

As the Mets help further their rebuilding efforts, the expectation is for Syndergaard to avoid missing significant time due to injury and grow into a pitcher capable of tossing close to 200 innings for per season for roughly 30 starts. The last two seasons interrupted a once promising start to a career, but his pitching arsenal remains intact if he can find a way to stay on the mound.

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