MIAMI — Noah Syndergaard’s whack-a-mole injury situation this year and last — the back, the finger, the children’s virus — has diverted much of his efforts from a big-picture career arc and tangible progress toward his ace ceiling. It also has limited the work he has put in to address what manager Mickey Callaway considers one of his greatest hindrances: controlling the running game.
“I was getting sidetracked and sidelined,” Syndergaard said Sunday afternoon after the Mets beat the Marlins, 4-3.
He’s healthy again, however, and Syndergaard and the Mets hope the season’s final weeks will be a time of progress in that realm for the righthander.
“It’ll be a little easier now that he’s going to be out there pitching every [turn in the rotation],” Callaway said. “When you’re trying to come back, you’re trying to do so many things just to stay healthy. Trying to adjust your delivery to work on something is a little tough.
“The more reps out there, he’s going to be able to practice that. He just needs to mix in that quicker time every now and again. He’s doing a good job of his holds, his looks, he’s picking off well. He just needs to be a tad quicker to home.”
In his seven-inning, three-run outing, Syndergaard (8-2, 3.22) allowed three stolen bases in as many attempts. Callaway said he gave catcher Kevin Plawecki a chance to throw out the runner on one of those tries.
Syndergaard worked around traffic all day — he allowed seven hits and two walks — and mixed in a throwing error and seven strikeouts.
That effort, combined with Michael Conforto’s sixth-inning homer, helped the Mets (49-66) win a second consecutive series for the first time since mid-April.
Controlling the running game did not go well this time. In the first, Rafael Ortega stole second and scored on Starlin Castro’s single to left. In the sixth, Martin Prado swiped second — his first steal since September 2016 — and scored on Bryan Holaday’s single up the middle. In between, Ortega stole again but was stranded.
“I felt like I did a pretty good job today,” Syndergaard said. “If they want to steal a base with two outs, so be it. I don’t really care. I have enough confidence in my pitches to get the next guy out.”
Opposing baserunners are 20-for-22 in attempted steals this year against Syndergaard, whose 6-6, 240-pound frame makes it difficult to throw the ball home quickly. It doesn’t help that the Mets’ catchers have combined to catch 22 percent of would-be base-stealers this year, below the league average of 28 percent.
“He’s such a big-body guy — long arms, long limbs — it’s tough for him to slide-step or quick-step to home and have his arm catch up on time,” Callaway said. “The thing he’s always trying to battle is, do I want to lose stuff and try to control the running game a little bit?
“He has definitely improved [since spring training]. It still needs to continue to improve to get to a satisfactory level.”
Conforto’s laser of a home run in the sixth gave the Mets a 4-2 lead and stood as the difference. It was his 15th of the year, three behind Asdrubal Cabrera — now with the Phillies — for the team lead.
The Mets scored three runs in the opening two innings with only one hit. Amed Rosario walked, stole second and advanced to third and home on flyouts in the first. In the second, after Jose Bautista reached on an error, Jose Reyes launched a two-out homer to left-center.
Reyes, among the least productive players in baseball this season, is hitting .293 with a .537 slugging percentage in the past month (10 starts).
“Jose’s been swinging the bat really well when he’s played lately, and it’s good to get him in there when we have to give a guy a day off,” Callaway said. “It’s really good to see.”