Contrary to scouting reports, team officials, general knowledge and basic logic, Noah Syndergaard wasn't really a pitcher when he first started with the Mets this season.
He'll certainly enter the postseason as one.
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"I was still more of a thrower" early in the season, Syndergaard said Saturday after another solid start -- a 3-1 loss to the Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader in which he got a no-decision. "I think I've advanced myself to more of a pitcher and I'm really excited at the strides I've made this season . . . I just learned how to pitch."
Let's get one thing straight -- Syndergaard knows how to throw really well. His fastball lives in the high 90s, he struck out a career-high 13 batters in July and he entered Saturday having thrown 1,371 pitches at 95 mph or faster, second in the majors to Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole. He's averaging 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
But against the Nationals, he was setting up hitters with his sinker, hitting his spots with his curveball and mixing in an 88-mph changeup that makes hitting a 98-mph fastball even more difficult. Syndergaard was, by his definition, "pitching" -- all the way to seven innings of two-hit ball. He allowed one walk and struck out 10, his second straight start with double-digit strikeouts.
Syndergaard's only real mistake came in the seventh, when a hanging curveball to Clint Robinson landed midway up the Pepsi Porch in rightfield to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
Bryce Harper hit a two-run homer off Addison Reed in the eighth to break a tie at 1.
"I'm very impressed," Terry Collins said of Syndergaard. "He's used his off-speed stuff early in the game and he's made it easy for himself. For years and years, you always thought these big, tall guys have a tough time maintaining their command because there are so many moving parts that it's surprising how much he pounds the strike zone."
The 6-6, 240-pound Syndergaard's success comes into focus as the Mets prepare to face the Dodgers in the National League Division Series on Friday. With Steven Matz's situation up in the air -- the Mets don't know if his back will be healed in time for him to pitch -- and Matt Harvey probably slated for only one start in the series, it stands that Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom (combined major-league experience: three years) will have to bear the brunt of the load.
Syndergaard, who is dominant at Citi Field but less so on the road, certainly wouldn't mind taking the hill in Flushing, but his newly honed skills apparently travel well. He's allowed three earned runs in 142/3 innings in his last two road starts.
"We prefer to open up at home just because we have the best fans in baseball, but we're going to give it to the Dodgers anywhere we are," said Syndergaard, who has only two losses at home and is 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA overall. "I'm excited for the things to come . . . I think every time I fell behind in the count, I was able to locate either a changeup or a curveball for a strike and get some ground-ball outs. I wasn't necessarily throwing fastballs in fastball counts, so that's something that's given me a lot of confidence."
He added: "Today, I was able to throw."
Able to pitch, too.