WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Noah Syndergaard took the mound Monday against the Astros, his first game action of spring training, and did what Noah Syndergaard always does: pump high-90s fastballs.
He opened with a 98-mph fastball, his average last season. Then another 98 and another, then a slider at 92, then a fastball at 99, and so on.
Syndergaard didn’t hit triple digits, and the quality of his pitches weren’t anything out of the ordinary for him.
But on Feb. 25, those kinds of velocity readings on the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches scoreboard were striking — and, for manager Mickey Callaway, just a little scary.
“I got to see that last year. At least he didn’t hit 100 this year,” Callaway said with a smile. “But no, he does it so easy, it was nice. Throw as many strikes as he did, he and Jacob [deGrom] looked like they should at this point in spring training.”
The early-spring training velocity question has been an annual one for the Mets in recent seasons. Their high-powered arms are plenty powerful even at this time of year. Callaway addressed it Sunday after deGrom sat at 96-97 mph in his first outing of camp, half-jokingly saying, “I wish I could” convince the ace to dial it back.
It will happen to lesser degrees the next two days, when Zack Wheeler (96.5-mph average fastball velocity in 2018) faces the Tigers on Tuesday and Steven Matz (94.0) gets the Marlins on Wednesday.
Kidding aside, the Mets are OK with their starting pitchers lighting up the radar gun as long as it happens easily.
“I don’t care what the radar reads are,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “If they’re coming out of their delivery, if they’re out of control, if they’re trying to overthrow or trying to muscle the ball, I would address it. No matter what the radar gun says.
“Sometimes you tell guys to back off, and that’s when they get hurt. As long as they’re under control and staying within their delivery, they are who they are.”
Eiland said he has seen that happen in the past — asking a pitcher to take it easy, only to have him get hurt because it wasn’t natural — but didn’t want to name names.
Syndergaard echoed Eiland’s sentiment.
“I know it’s early, but if you try to take a little bit off early in games like this, I think you put yourself more at a risk for higher injury,” Syndergaard said. “If you got it in the tank, then I don’t see why not to get after it.”
In his two innings against Houston, Syndergaard allowed a pair of hits and struck out two batters. The Mets and Astros played to a 3-3 tie.
Syndergaard was working on elevating his four-seam fastball, which he has used less frequently during the past two (injury-plagued) seasons in favor of the two-seamer, which he wants to scale back.
“I fell in love with the two-seamer because it’s an artsy pitch,” Syndergaard said. “When I throw it right, it’s pretty darn good, get some lateral movement and depth. But for the most part, if I throw it wrong, it’s probably going to find the middle of the plate.”
Callaway likes the idea of Syndergaard throwing his four-seamer up in the strike zone. Hitters are so focused on the lower part of the zone against Syndergaard that even watching — not swinging at — an elevated fastball changes their eye level and benefits the pitcher, Callaway said.
“If he can take that part of his game, I think that would really help him if he’s comfortable with it,” Callaway said. “From my standpoint, when he’s been out there and healthy, he’s been a top five, six pitcher in the game. If he wants to continue to improve, that’s a great thing and a great attitude to have.”
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