For all of the questions, minute and seismic, surrounding the Mets this summer, Noah Syndergaard provided the beginning of an answer to one Friday night: Can he build a decent innings base heading into 2019?
In his first major-league game in seven weeks, Syndergaard held the Nationals to one run in five innings, helping the Mets to a 4-2 win. He tossed 75 pitches, scattered seven hits and struck out three. Two Nationals walked — Matt Adams and Daniel Murphy consecutively in the fourth, when Syndergaard started to fight a mechanical issue — and they put their leadoff man on in all of Syndergaard’s innings, but he generally worked around it.
“It was a step in the right direction. It’s encouraging, and I came out of it healthy,” Syndergaard said. “That’s all that matters.”
Syndergaard also drove in a run, as his line-drive single to right in the second capped the Mets’ scoring for the night. Amed Rosario went 2-for-4 with a triple and a double, his third consecutive strong start. Brandon Nimmo had three hits and a diving catch to end the game.
That made a winner of Syndergaard, who matched Jacob deGrom with five victories.
As good as Syndergaard’s stuff is — and as good as he can be — his past season and a half have been an injury-induced disappointment. A torn lat cost him most of 2017. A strained ligament in his right index finger held him out from May 25 until Friday.
Manager Mickey Callaway called those “kind of anomalies” and is confident that Syndergaard will be able to stay on the mound now. He cited the righthander’s between-starts routine, through which he maintains flexibility and strength (without bulking up), as a reason.
“Working on the right things — and not just working hard — is essential for him to have success and stay healthy because of who he is, how hard he throws, the weapons that he has,” Callaway said.
And so, as is the case for the Mets as a whole, the rest of this season is more about next year for Syndergaard. The goals center around quantity of work as much as quality. Last year, he threw 30 1⁄3 innings after his 183 2⁄3 during an All-Star 2016. After Friday, he’s up to 69 2⁄3 (with a 2.97 ERA) in 2018.
“We really need him to make that start every fifth day the rest of the season to get to an inning total that is going to be something he can build off of,” Callaway said. “That’s very key . . . so when he stays healthy next year, he can push the 200-inning limit.”
How many innings would the Mets like Syndergaard to throw? Callaway said it’s not as much about innings as it is starts. The Mets will play 68 games after the All-Star break, which starts Monday. If Syndergaard indeed starts once every five games, he’ll be due for 14 starts, which would make 26 for the year. A full season is about 32. The Mets could finagle their rotation if they want him to make more or fewer.
A sexy preseason Cy Young pick each of the past two years, Syndergaard has had his growth — and career trajectory — slowed by injuries. But it’s worth noting: The guy still is really young.
“His age and how much he’s pitched, he’s way ahead of the curve,” Callaway said. “I’ve been around Cy Young winners, watched Cy Young winners, that at his age they’re still struggling at Triple-A or had a little success in the major leagues.”
Corey Kluber, Callaway’s Cleveland pupil, didn’t break out until his age-28 season. DeGrom was the surprise NL Rookie of the Year in 2014 as a 26-year-old. Syndergaard doesn’t turn 26 until next month.
“He’s going to be an elite, elite pitcher,” Callaway said. “And it’s going to be fun to watch that happen.”