WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Noah Syndergaard’s display of dominance, even in a spring training setting, was something to behold: seven consecutive strikeouts to wrap up his 3 1⁄3 scoreless innings Thursday in the Mets’ 8-5 loss to the Nationals.
Jose Marmolejos swinging, Moises Sierra swinging, Brian Goodwin swinging. That was the second, after consecutive batters reached to open the inning.
Then came the big-league standouts in the third: Trea Turner looking, Bryce Harper swinging, Anthony Rendon looking.
Syndergaard got Matt Adams looking to begin the fourth before manager Mickey Callaway decided 63 pitches (39 strikes) was enough for his third spring training start.
The line: two hits, two walks, no runs, seven strikeouts. Syndergaard’s ERA is 1.08 and his WHIP is 0.72.
“Today was a step in the right direction,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m in midseason form yet.”
Added catcher Kevin Plawecki: “I honestly don’t think he had his best stuff today, but he made the most of what he had.”
The reaction from pitcher and catcher was subdued because Syndergaard struggled early. Four of Washington’s first seven batters reached before Plawecki made a mound visit.
“[Plawecki] basically told me to get my head out of my [expletive],” Syndergaard said. “Get back to staying closed and following through toward him instead of falling to the first-base side and trying to do too much.”
Plawecki, while laughing, clarified that that was not exactly how he phrased it.
“Those weren’t my words. It was a [version] of that, I guess,” he said. “He made it sound a lot more hard-core than it was. I just told him to stay back and go after this guy. I thought he was not dancing around guys, but I thought he could attack a little bit better.”
Then came the seven straight strikeouts.
“He didn’t really have the command he wanted the first couple of innings,” Callaway said. “But he kept on pitching. And he really settled in and finished strong.”
The Nationals stole two bases against Syndergaard, but Callaway said he is pleased with the righthander’s improving ability to control the running game.
In the past, Callaway said, Syndergaard has taken about 1.70-something seconds to get to home plate. That’s a long time and gives a catcher little chance to throw out would-be base-stealers. Now Syndergaard is down in the 1.30s and even reached 1.28 seconds on one pitch Thursday.
“In the past, he hasn’t really valued it,” Callaway said. “But we’re going to help him value that a little bit more. He can definitely do it. He’s just got to pay attention to it and want to do it.”
As far as Syndergaard’s actual pitches go, Callaway pointed to the curveball — his No. 4 pitch — as a key to success Thursday and beyond. Syndergaard did the same after his previous start.
Because Syndergaard throws so hard, sitting in the upper 90s this time but typically hitting 100 with ease in the regular season, he can get away with hanging curveballs, Callaway said. It’s useful as long as it changes batters’ expectations speed-wise.
“He needs to make sure that hitters can’t just go up there and sit hard on him,” Callaway said. “It’s something he’s getting more and more comfortable with.
“I think after he struck out that one guy looking on the last pitch of the inning, he came over to me and was like, ‘Man, that feels like a really good pitch for me.’ If he can mix in that slower pitch at times and get hitters off all the hard stuff, there’s no telling what he can do.”