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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

At this stage of the season, Mets manager Mickey Callaway should let Noah Syndergaard have a personal catcher

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard talks

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard talks with catcher Wilson Ramos on the mound after giving up a three-run home run to Los Angeles Dodgers' Gavin Lux during the fourth inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Mickey Callaway talked extensively before Friday’s game about his “faith” in Noah Syndergaard as the reason for starting Wilson Ramos behind the plate — instead of Thor’s preferred batterymate, Tomas Nido.

Callaway’s spin? He heaped praise on Syndergaard for his unflappable mound presence, saying that it really didn’t matter who was catching him, because Noah — at his best — wouldn’t be fazed by the manager’s choice.

And yet, it felt too predictable when Callaway didn’t get Syndergaard’s A-game Friday night, as the Dodgers dented him for four runs in the fourth inning, including Gavin Lux’s three-run homer, a 419-foot blast that sent the Mets reeling in the 9-2 loss.

Syndergaard tried to slip a full-count curveball past Lux— a curious choice — but the 82-mph pitch stayed up in the zone, where Lux blasted it. Was that a case of Noah not trusting Ramos to frame a fastball on the edges? Or shaking off a slider because of Ramos’ difficulty handling it from him? Syndergaard later denied that was the case.

“It comes down to me going out there and executing pitches,” Syndergaard said. “That’s about it.” 

Before the collapse, the two seemed to get along fine (aside from very little between-inning contact that we could see). Syndergaard retired 10 of the first 12 Dodgers he faced, with four strikeouts, until a 10-pitch walk to Cody Bellinger got LA started in the fourth. Overall, Syndergaard survived only five innings for the second straight start — both with Ramos —and whiffed four in the 102-pitch outing.

We’re not blaming Ramos for this, obviously. He didn’t stick around after Friday’s loss, and previously has declined to discuss the Syndergaard matter. But here’s our feeling on the whole personal-catcher issue. Once Syndergaard voiced his preference to the club’s decision-makers, with the statistical evidence to support Nido, why not give him the optimal chance to succeed down the stretch?

If this were May or June, it’s a different story. Then we’d agree with Callaway. Teams don’t want to cave on personal catchers because it boxes them into uncomfortable situations. What if someone’s favorite backstop gets hurt? It also affects a manager’s lineup choices, and that can be detrimental to the entire club over the course of a six-month season.

But this is mid-September, and when Syndergaard took the mound Friday, the Mets had only 16 games left — every one of them crucial to their wild-card hopes (the loss put them three games behind the Cubs). Ramos seems to do better on less rest than most catchers, but he could use the occasional breather, so why not just play Nido on Syndergaard’s turn?

The offensive benefit with Ramos is clear. But there is strong evidence to side with Syndergaard, like his 2.45 ERA with Nido, as opposed to 5.09 with Ramos. While that can be a very subjective measure, there are plenty of others that point to Syndergaard feeling compelled to pitch more up in the zone to Ramos, and shying away from his slider. We’re not going to list all those here. You’ll just have to trust us.

As for Syndergaard’s take on Friday’s pairing with Ramos? “I feel like we were really meshing and flowing out there,” he said.

  Maybe so, but we got the impression that Syndergaard was trying hard to defuse an awkward — and really unnecessary— situation. The Mets know that Syndergaard, despite his Thor persona and 100-mph fastball, can feel insecure on the mound, even when he appears unhittable. Syndergaard has admitted as much. He also has been haunted by trade rumors from December through July, and is surely thinking he’s headed for the block again this offseason based on the Ramos episode.

Either Callaway or general manager Brodie Van Wagenen had to realize that it made sense to boost Syndergaard’s confidence for the short-term playoff push, and looking ahead, it wouldn’t hurt to pump up his trade value for the winter as a byproduct of that effort. Instead, Callaway chose to gently dismiss Syndergaard’s concerns as a non-factor, by suggesting he was better than that.

Callaway referred to Syndergaard as “one of the best five pitchers on the planet when he’s been healthy.” Such overwhelming positivity is standard Callaway, but saying how great Syndergaard is doesn’t mean the Ramos-Nido stuff isn’t real.

“I think it’s about Noah Syndergaard,” Callaway said before the game. “And who he is and what he can do.”

Exactly. That’s the point. Syndergaard reminded the Mets who he is when he approached them last weekend about not pitching to Ramos. And again on Friday night.    

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