Noah Syndergaard and the Mets are hellbent on bringing him back this year, even though it would mean doing so at less than full strength — as a reliever instead of a starter, sans his signature slider and perhaps without his usual high-90s fastball velocity.
But the mere act of taking a major-league mound in a major-league game, for the first time in nearly two years, has value, pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said Friday. It would be worth it despite the absence of Syndergaard’s regular self.
That is why, when he makes his second rehab start with High-A Brooklyn on Sunday, he will continue not to throw breaking balls.
"Getting him healthy was paramount," Hefner said. "Not throwing that pitch allows him to get back here and prove that he’s feeling good and strong."
Hefner stressed that Syndergaard should have "a normal offseason," including being able to throw his slider and curveball without issue.
Working his way back from March 2020 Tommy John surgery, Syndergaard is scheduled to throw one inning-plus on Sunday. That means he will face a to-be-determined number of batters in his second frame, the goal being adding another "up" — taking the mound again after a half-inning of rest — to his regimen.
On Thursday, after his re-debut in the minors, Syndergaard revealed the plan to sideline his slider, noting it was the advice from two top orthopedic surgeons: Dr. David Altchek, who is the Mets’ medical director, and Dr. Neal ElAttrache. They believe the slider contributed to his elbow inflammation setback in May. In addition, he said, he decided not to throw his curveball, either, just to be safe.
Hefner characterized the slider call as more of a group decision, citing Syndergaard and his agents (led by Ryan Hamill of CAA) plus "the doctor and our people."
"[That collection of people] felt it was best to get him through the year, get him back healthy and feeling good," he said. "The slider does put some stress on the elbow."
Manager Luis Rojas reiterated Friday that he did not know about the breaking-balls plan until Syndergaard made it public during the Mets’ game Thursday. He made it seem not as definitive.
"That’s something that we haven’t talked about," Rojas said. "The doctors’ recommendation, that’s something that personally I wasn’t aware of. We’ll talk more about that as he keeps progressing, keeps ramping up with the innings and the pitches and everything, see where he’s at."
Can Syndergaard get by with just his fastballs and a changeup?
"For an inning or two," Hefner said.
And then there is the fastball velocity. Syndergaard was in the mid-90s with Brooklyn on Thursday. Pre-injury, he averaged 98 mph.
Hefner said he suspects it is a mental block for Syndergaard, who has endured 17 months of rehab and counting, including what Syndergaard called the "scary" issue in May.
"We would like to see it a little harder," Hefner said. "There’s probably a little bit of hesitation. He’ll work his way into it as he gets more comfortable."
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