Thor still seeking turnaround: 'Feels like I'm pitching on ice skates'

August 17th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- It’s hard enough to be a Major League starting pitcher. It’s harder to be a pitcher who feels like he's on ice skates when he's standing on the rubber.

Hurler has tried to rediscover himself all season long -- first with the Dodgers and now with the Guardians after being acquired at the Trade Deadline. But his outing at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday night was not the step Syndergaard was looking to take, as he permitted six runs (five earned) on eight hits and two walks with three strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings in Cleveland’s 7-2 loss to Cincinnati.

“It’s just same [stuff], different day,” Syndergaard said.

When the Guardians acquired Syndergaard, they knew they were getting a pitcher who needed to find his confidence. They knew he was a work in progress. They knew Syndergaard had mental hurdles to clear. They were looking for another body to add to the rotation to help eat some innings down the stretch as their rookie starters began to hit career-high innings totals. Plus, Cleveland wanted to open up the shortstop position to see its younger players get more playing time, and Los Angeles was interested in Amed Rosario.

Syndergaard wasn’t supposed to take this rotation to the next level. The hope was that the Guardians would be able to see the best version of him in a while. It’s an organization that’s had tremendous success helping pitchers improve in the past, so maybe it would work with a former All-Star starter.

The first thing Cleveland's coaching staff noticed with Syndergaard was that he had so much information he was trying to digest. Pitching coach Carl Willis didn’t want to pile on. The team wanted to simplify Sydnergaard’s approach to hopefully allow him to just go pitch. Although Syndergaard felt he took a step in the right direction after his Guardians debut in Houston on July 31, he hasn’t indicated he’s felt that way since, especially not on Wednesday.

When aiming to simplify his approach, the Guardians often tell Syndergaard to just focus on being athletic on the mound. But that was far from the way he felt against the Reds.

“It just feels like I’m pitching on ice skates,” Syndergaard said. “I feel like every time I try to use my legs, they slip out underneath me.”

Syndergaard gave up a pair of two-run homers in the fourth inning. When he came back for the fifth, he picked up one quick out before loading the bases on two singles and a walk, prompting Cleveland to turn to its bullpen.

“The two home runs -- one was a hanging breaking ball slider and the other one was a changeup he didn’t locate,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I really wanted to give him a chance to get out of that last inning, but I think he was up to about 97 [pitches]. That was enough.”

The Reds swiped three bags against Syndergaard, which has been one of his biggest difficulties all season. Entering the night, runners had successfully stolen 28 bases in 29 attempts against him.

“I’m working on it,” Syndergaard said. “It was just, like, right now it’s hard to be quick and have clean mechanics. But at the same time, I’m the kind of guy that relies on momentum to get my body going. When I’m basically just picking up my leg and going towards home plate, it’s hard. It feels like it’s just harder to get power behind it.”

In Syndergaard’s four starts with the Guardians, two have produced decent results. The other two were more of a grind. He’s trying to break that pattern, but he explained it’s been hard for him.

“Even on the starts when I do have success, it’s still just the conviction,” Syndergaard said. “I mean, I’m able to throw strikes, but sometimes I’m not very confident in that pitch.”

Syndergaard has dealt with mental hurdles all year. He had a blister on his right index finger that was the reason he landed on the injured list on July 26, but he’d be the first to tell you that the break was more for a mental reset. Syndergaard hoped he’d be in a better place with Cleveland, but he knows he still has some strides to make.

“It’s hard to enjoy anything else in my life when my one true love of baseball ...” Syndergaard said before he paused his thought. “I’m just not having a lot of fun right now.”