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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Noah Syndergaard has strong start, but Mets’ rotation can’t afford anymore setbacks

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, No.

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, No. 34, looks on in the dugout during the seventh inning of their Opening Day game against the Atlanta Braves on Monday, April 3, 2017, at Citi Field. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Rather than simply gushing about Noah Syndergaard’s epic changeups, a terrifying pitch the Braves’ Matt Kemp will be seeing in his nightmares for a while, a great deal of this space now has to be turned over to the Mets’ muddied rotation outlook despite an otherwise solid 6-0 victory in Monday’s season opener at Citi Field.

Syndergaard, in his usual way, was awesome. The 99-mph heat, the insane 94-mph slider, the drop-fade, 88-mph power change.

The day after we saw bold-faced names such as Madison Bumgarner and Masahiro Tanaka hit rough patches when things got real, Syndergaard was totally unfazed during his six scoreless innings.

In fanning seven without a walk, he joined Jerry Koosman as the only two Mets to do that on Opening Day. Koosman’s gem was a complete-game victory over the Expos in 1978. As for Syndergaard, his most troublesome foe wasn’t anyone on the Braves’ roster. It was the blood blister that sprouted on his right middle finger during the second inning.

Blisters don’t stir the same dread as shoulder pain or elbow stiffness, but they’re plenty effective at cutting a pitcher’s day short, and that’s what prematurely capped Syndergaard’s outing at 86 pitches. Only later did we discover that Syndergaard had been dealing with it for most of the game. It still couldn’t stop him from stifling the Braves — twice — with a runner at third.

After Freddie Freeman’s one-out triple in the fourth inning, Syndergaard whiffed Kemp and Nick Markakis, the latter getting spun around on a 3-and-2, 94-mph slider. In the sixth, it was Kemp’s turn to strike out again, and Syndergaard fought back from 3-and-0 on Markakis to coerce a flyout. That’s shortly after the blister popped, too.

“That to me was the difference in the game, and that’s what the great ones do,” Terry Collins said. “They can coast along, coast along, and all of a sudden, they get under pressure and the stuff gets a little bit better.”

The Mets have come to expect that from Syndergaard, who, by the way, never had that bone spur in his elbow removed after pitching through it last season. Forgive us for the worrisome reminder, but Syndergaard deserves credit for being able to push through pitching’s relentless annoyances, ranging from minor aches to severe pains.

And after the Mets’ unsettling news on two more of their starters — Steven Matz and Seth Lugo — Syndergaard again might have to be their rock. “It’s just a little blister,” he said. “I’m not too concerned about it.”

Matz revealed before the game that his discomfort is being caused by a strained flexor tendon, no small injury. The Mets already had said he’d be shut down for three weeks — some cases result in surgery — so put him out of your mind for a while.

Then there’s Lugo, the WBC star, who complained of elbow fatigue and wound up on the disabled list. His DL stay was supposed to be short. But after Monday’s game, Collins said he now faces a more serious situation with his elbow that could keep him on the shelf for a “couple of weeks.” And in the Mets’ medical lexicon, “couple” never means two. That’s a disturbing development.

In a matter of days, the Mets’ rotation depth went from a cushy seven to the standard five, so it’s no wonder Collins pulled Syndergaard when he did. Or that the Mets, only minutes after what should have been a feel-good victory, chose to delay Syndergaard’s next start until Sunday night to give the blister a bonus day to heal. Robert Gsellman now will start Saturday.

“I think it’s the right decision,” Collins said. “We’ve got to stay healthy. We’ve preached it and preached it and preached it and now we’ve got to act on it.”

No matter how vigilant the Mets are about guarding against injury, there’s no fail-safe method of prevention. As enjoyable as it was for Mets fans to watch Syndergaard do his Thor routine on Opening Day, it’s a long season, and the Mets’ attention already has turned to preserving him — as well as the rest of their sterling rotation — over the next six months.

Syndergaard called the blister “a rare occurrence,” a bad penny dating to his days pitching in the Blue Jays’ farm system. Starting tomorrow, for Game No. 2, the Mets could use some better luck.

Fast Start

Noah Syndergaard’s Opening Day numbers:

Innings 6

Hits 5

Runs 0

Strikeouts 7

Walks 0

Pitches/Strikes 86/55

Top Fastball Velocity 99 mph

Exit Velocity on 5th-Inning Single 110.7 mph

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