The Mets insist there’s absolutely no reason to worry about Noah Syndergaard, despite his various elbow scares, and Terry Collins certainly didn’t show an abundance of caution in pushing him to 115 pitches during the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader with the Cardinals.
That matched Syndergaard’s season high, dating back to a June 15 blowout win over the Pirates that led to people questioning why Collins allowed him to expend so many bullets rather than let the bullpen mop up. The explanation that day was Collins wanted to give Syndergaard a chance for the shutout.
On Tuesday, the manager said he simply needed the innings, and those have been a little more difficult for Syndergaard to provide lately. Last week, coming off an 11-day recharging period, Syndergaard needed 105 pitches to limit the Cubs to an unearned run over 5 2⁄3 innings. This time, his count ran to 48 pitches after two innings, and was at 103 through five — as the Mets’ bullpen remained quiet.
It’s not that Sydnergaard has been ineffective. The Mets rallied for a 2-1 win in last week’s start at Wrigley and Syndergaard allowed only two earned runs (8 Ks) over six innings in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Cardinals. If the Mets were merely adequate with runners in scoring position, Syndergaard probably winds up with a win instead of falling to 9-5 on the season.
The primary concern now is keeping Syndergaard around a little deeper into games, both to give the Mets’ inept offense a better shot and help preserve the bullpen. With Collins saying Tuesday this is “crunch time” for the Mets, these Syndergaard starts have a must-win feel to them, and he’s flaming out prematurely.
“I just think the Cardinals did a really good job of getting my pitch count high in the first two innings,” Syndergaard said. “There were a series of unfortunate events that happened in the second inning that got my pitch count elevated, and at that point I’m trying to last as long as I can.”
That second inning was particularly frustrating for Syndergaard as the Cardinals dented him with a pair of infield hits, including one that ricocheted off his leg, that loaded the bases. If that wasn’t irritating enough, the pitcher, Carlos Martinez, tapped a slow roller back toward the mound that Syndergaard awkwardly gloved on the third-base side and then threw wildly to the plate, permitting Yadier Molina to score on the error.
“I wasn’t very athletic out there,” Syndergaard said. “But it was a tough play.”
Aside from his suspect fielding agility, Syndergaard appeared to have his usual weapons at optimum strength. His four-seam fastball averaged 99.2 mph, with a peak of 101.7, according to brooksbaseball.net, and his slider was at 91.4, including a 93.2 max. Still, the Cardinals were able to drive up his pitch count by fouling off enough of them, and that eventually did him in.
“They could have been a little bit farther out of the zone, maybe get a swing and miss, but I thought they were good pitches,” Syndergaard said. “They just got the bat on the ball and spoiled them.”
As that second inning showed, Syndergaard seems to be unlucky, too. Before Tuesday, in his previous five starts, Syndergaard had a combined 4.10 ERA, with 33 hits allowed in 26 1⁄3 innings, an inflated total due to the fact opponents were batting a crazy-high .431 on balls put in play. For his career, Syndergaard has held opponents to a significantly lower .310 BABIP, so either he’ll begin catching a few breaks or the Mets’ defense will do a better job closing a few holes.
Between games of the doubleheader, Collins mentioned that making Syndergaard more efficient was something he had talked about with pitching coach Dan Warthen, but it eluded them for a second straight start.
“He had to battle through,” Collins said.
As long as Syndergaard’s issues aren’t elbow-related, they can be figured out. Collins bristled before the game when asked again about the level of concern for Syndergaard on a start-by-start basis, but the Mets don’t appear to be all that protective of him otherwise.
“The worst thing we did was say he had a bone spur,” Collins said.
That’s their hope, anyway.