It started in spring training.
The new regime of manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland let the oft-coddled young Mets pitchers know there were a pair of new sheriffs in town.
Callaway, the cool tactician, and Eiland, the shoot-from-the-hip gunslinger, made it clear to Jacob deGrom when he had an early bout of back stiffness that they were not going to move heaven and earth so he could start on Opening Day.
DeGrom really wanted the honor, and he deserved it. Not so fast, Callaway and Eiland said, and deGrom had to settle for the second game of the season.
The newfound sense of the adults now running the room continued when the ineffective Zack Wheeler and Hansel Robles were sent to Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season. It continued with the banishment of Matt Harvey to the bullpen and then Cincinnati, and the placement of deGrom on the disabled list on May 6 when he didn’t want to go. Steven Matz pretty much starts once a week like he’s Shohei Ohtani without the DH days as the Mets try to keep him from breaking down again.
But the most interesting shot fired may have come on Tuesday, when Eiland had this to say in the New York Post about the high expectations surrounding Opening Day (and Tuesday night) starter Noah Syndergaard: “He’s spent, what, 2 1⁄2 years in the big leagues? So I don’t know where all the expectations came from. I wasn’t here for all that, but he is yet to do a whole lot at the major-league level. Now is he capable of it? Yeah, but he is 25 years old.”
Whoa. Why was Eiland throwing shade at Thor? Is it to motivate Syndergaard, who improved to 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA by allowing two runs in five innings in the Mets’ rain-delayed 12-2 win over the Blue Jays at Citi Field?
“I just felt like I haven’t been living up to expectations for myself or for other people,” said Syndergaard, who also drove in the first two Mets runs with a double and sacrifice fly.
Asked about Eiland’s comments, Syndergaard said: “Him and I spoke about it today. If he didn’t mention it I wouldn’t have seen it . . . We discussed it and there’s really nothing to it. His words were a little misconstrued. But the expectations I put on myself I haven’t been meeting, so there’s really nothing else to it.”
Has Syndergaard really not done “a whole lot at the major-league level?”
Syndergaard has a career record of 27-19. He had the Mets’ only win in the 2015 World Series as a rookie. In 2016, he was an All-Star and finished eighth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. He threw seven shutout innings in the Mets’ wild-card game loss to the Giants.
In 2017, Syndergaard had the infamous no-MRI lat muscle tear that limited him to seven starts.
Then there’s the stuff that doesn’t matter to a pitching coach, like Syndergaard’s flowing hair and his cool nickname. He’s a presence on the mound and on social media and has a devoted following of Mets fans who love his high-octane fastball and his high-energy act.
Eiland — who has two World Series rings as a pitching coach, from the 2009 Yankees and 2015 Royals — is not as impressed. It’s a recurring theme with the new regime. They are less impressed with the Mets’ young arms than the pitchers often are with themselves.
It’s Eiland’s job to get the most out of the supremely talented Syndergaard. If that means a verbal kick in the butt . . . well, Syndergaard did strike out the side in the first inning. But he needed 103 pitches to get through five.
It’s a start for Syndergaard. But, as Eiland might say, not exactly a great one.