LOS ANGELES — Noah Syndergaard had just staged a one-man exhibition of awe-inspiring skill. In a 4-3 Mets victory Wednesday night, the 23-year-old phenom slammed two homers and needed just 95 pitches to hold the Dodgers to a pair of solo homers over eight innings. Naturally, he wanted the ball for the ninth.
“You think to yourself we’re kind of in a different era now,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “These young players come up here and what’s next? He goes out there and he’s hitting a hundred [mph] and he’s hitting home runs, at night, to the opposite field, at Dodger Stadium. Those are legendary-type things.”
But Terry Collins didn’t think twice about ending Syndergaard’s special night. When the ninth inning rolled around, closer Jeurys Familia emerged from the dugout.
“We made a commitment that we’re going to watch out for these young pitchers early in the year,” said Collins, who reminded Syndergaard that it had been only two weeks since he complained of elbow stiffness.
The issue had not been disclosed previously. But the Mets’ reaction to what turned out to be a false alarm was a reminder of the challenge they face: protecting the rotation’s bright young arms.
So, after Syndergaard’s May 1 loss to the Giants, he was sent for an MRI exam. He was ultimately cleared.
“Noah’s one of these guys who’s really in tune with the way he feels from start to start,” assistant general manager John Ricco said. “Coming out of the start against the Giants, he said something just didn’t feel right and he wanted to see, have it checked out. As you know, we’re pretty conservative when it comes to these guys.”
Matt Harvey has endured a dip in velocity. Jacob deGrom has yet to consistently show the same zip on his fastball. And on Wednesday, the Mets announced that Long Island’s Steven Matz will miss his scheduled start Saturday with left elbow and forearm stiffness.
Meanwhile, Syndergaard’s recent elbow woes clearly remained on Collins’ mind. When he’s not hitting 400-foot homers, Syndergaard is throwing the hardest fastball (97.8 mph), slider (91.7) and changeup (89.8) in the big leagues.
Elbow issues in particular raise red flags, and for Collins, there was no need to tempt fate.
“We can talk about this young pitching all we want, but we’re not going to hurt these guys for 15 more pitches in a game that’s 4-2,” he said. “If it was 4-0, he’s going for a shutout, if he’s going for a no-hitter, or if he’s going for 21 strikeouts, I might let him go 10 or 12 more pitches. But not in a game like tonight.”
The pitcher acknowledged the exam but offered few details. Was the test prompted by discomfort or tightness? He wouldn’t say. Ricco stopped short of even saying that Syndergaard experienced “discomfort.”
Said Syndergaard: “It was just all precautionary.”
Nevertheless, the episode demonstrated once again just how far the Mets are willing to go to protect their arms. It’s a challenge not unique to them, though no team boasts more young pitching talent.
“The one difference might be that our pitching is so good that it’s such a high-profile thing that anytime there’s anything, it’s a headline,” Ricco said. “When you have a bunch of three and four starters, it’s not as big a deal. These guys are top-of-the-game pitchers, so it’s going to get more attention. I think that’s the case here.’’