PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Noah Syndergaard stood tall on the pitcher’s mound, the breeze blowing his long blond hair as he looked in for the sign. It’s spring training, a time for players to ease themselves into a season that won’t begin for weeks. But in this casual atmosphere, as fans in shorts and sunglasses chatted away and snapped their pictures, Syndergaard lost himself in a different time.
As the rest of the Mets went through the paces of another mundane day in camp, Syndergaard took the mound Thursday as if it already were July.
“He’s midseason,” pitching coach Dan Warthen said after watching Syndergaard throw his first session of live batting practice. “He has something to prove. He wants to win a World Series.”
If Grapefruit League games are a dress rehearsal for the season, then live BP is a dress rehearsal for the dress rehearsal. They are typically boring affairs, especially early in camp, when most hitters don’t bother to swing.
Hitters are working to get their timing down, and the first step involves getting accustomed to tracking baseballs as they leave the pitcher’s hand. The only swings come from overanxious minor-leaguers eager to stand out, especially when coaches are watching.
But to Syndergaard, his throwing session didn’t look that much different from his last start, Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals. He put on a freakish display.
“It looks like it, doesn’t it? He looked really good,” catcher Kevin Plawecki said. “I was telling him that his command was in midseason form, his off-speed was midseason form. He had good break in his breaking ball. His slider was really good. A couple of changeups he pushed a little bit, but he made the adjustment. He came back and threw some great ones at the end.”
It’s too early for the radar guns. But if the hitters coming out of the cage were any indication, the fireballing righthander already was ramping up his fastball in the mid-90s.
“His stuff was awesome, everything,” said Raywilly Go mez, one of those who stood in against Syndergaard. “It’s the nastiest stuff I’ve ever seen.”
Coaches around the batting cage could only shake their heads.
“Man,” manager Terry Col lins said as he walked off the field, “that’s pretty good [stuff].”
Syndergaard, 23, couldn’t say for sure why he already is locked in. His best guess: pitching deep into the postseason.
“That short time off didn’t allow my body to really break down or lose muscle memory or anything to my mechanics,” he said. “But my body feels good, everything was working today. I am kind of shocking myself a little bit how good I feel so early in spring training.”
As Syndergaard left the mound, Warthen’s only critique was that he had been a touch slow on a pitchout. Meanwhile, the hitters took a knee near the cage, using their hands to mimic the motion of a slider that Syndergaard is working to refine.
Said Plawecki: “I was just happy today that I was behind the plate rather than in the batter’s box.”