Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard looks on from the dugout during...

Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard looks on from the dugout during an MLB baseball game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

LOS ANGELES — Noah Syndergaard is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment this week, two people familiar with the process said, a notable step forward in his return from a nearly two-year absence from pitching in a game that counts.

His next step likely will be another live batting-practice session, which he already has done twice, most recently Saturday. If he continues to feel good after that — and all signs lately have been positive — the idea is for him to pitch in a real game with an affiliate.

The Mets have planned an early September debut for Syndergaard, whom they might use out of the bullpen so he can join the team sooner. Stretching him out as a starter would take weeks; deploying him as a reliever would mean a far shorter rehab assignment.

Among the items still on Syndergaard’s to-do list: Throwing breaking balls — he has been limited to fastballs and changeups so far, a standard part of the Tommy John comeback process — and likely pitching multiple innings.

Out since March 2020 after suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, Syndergaard was expected back in June, but elbow inflammation in May set him back. He will be a free agent after this season.

Lindor’s delay

The Mets want to be "extra cautious" with Francisco Lindor, manager Luis Rojas said, so they left him on the injured list Sunday but plan to activate him "early this week." The Mets will open a homestand Tuesday when they play the Giants.

Lindor has missed more than five weeks with a strained right oblique.


Extra bases

Jeff McNeil played leftfield for the first time this season in the Mets’ 7-2 win over the Dodgers. Rojas indicated he will split time there with Dominic Smith once Lindor and Javier Baez become the new double-play combo . . . The Dodgers whacked golf balls from home plate Sunday morning, targeting a person in catcher’s gear in medium-depth centerfield. Cody Bellinger won after his ball went into the bleachers but ricocheted back onto the field and rolled right to the target. "I can use a backboard with the best of them!" he yelled . . . On Lakers Day at Dodger Stadium, Russell Westbrook threw out the first pitch . . . The Mets optioned righthander Geoff Hartlieb to Triple-A Syracuse.