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Mets hopeful a healthy Thor will soar in 2018

A torn right lat limited Syndergaard to 30 1/3 innings in '17
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- As this summer waned and the Mets fell further and further out of contention, selling off assets as they looked toward 2018, a chorus of voices began questioning the wisdom in letting Noah Syndergaard -- out since April with a torn right lat -- return to active duty. There was nothing Syndergaard could do to help the Mets down the stretch, the logic went. Might as well rest him up as much as possible.

Leading the counterargument was Syndergaard himself, who desperately wanted to feel the baseball in his hand again, to step atop the mound and glower at opposing hitters -- if only briefly. Once doctors cleared him to pitch, Syndergaard started two games down the stretch, firing a total of three scoreless innings with a fastball that reached 101 mph.

NEW YORK -- As this summer waned and the Mets fell further and further out of contention, selling off assets as they looked toward 2018, a chorus of voices began questioning the wisdom in letting Noah Syndergaard -- out since April with a torn right lat -- return to active duty. There was nothing Syndergaard could do to help the Mets down the stretch, the logic went. Might as well rest him up as much as possible.

Leading the counterargument was Syndergaard himself, who desperately wanted to feel the baseball in his hand again, to step atop the mound and glower at opposing hitters -- if only briefly. Once doctors cleared him to pitch, Syndergaard started two games down the stretch, firing a total of three scoreless innings with a fastball that reached 101 mph.

Syndergaard can't agree with those who thought it wasn't worth the risk.

"I'm extremely confident just because of the way I finished the season," he said. "The last start against the Phillies, I don't think I've ever felt that way before. My pitches, my repertoire, even increased in terms of velocity and just straight power. I felt great at the end of the season and I'm going to continue to stay hungry and try to get better each and every day."

Video: Syndergaard looks to regain form in 2018 after injury

There is reasonable doubt as to whether Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, all of whom missed large swaths of the 2017 season due to injuries, can remain healthy going forward. The Mets do not lump Syndergaard into that category, knowing his lat strain was a soft tissue injury -- not a shoulder, elbow or arterial pain.

Conversely, the Mets are counting on Syndergaard to enter next season in the same place he entered this one: A healthy Cy Young Award favorite whose ceiling is the best pitcher in baseball.

To reach those heights, Syndergaard has revamped his offseason routine, working with trainers Eric Cressey -- whom Syndergaard has known since he was a Blue Jays prospect -- and Shane Rye to incorporate more flexibility and speed training into his usual regimen. At one point this offseason, Syndergaard even worked alongside the Canadian Olympic sprint coach, diversifying his workouts beyond mere weightlifting.

"I'm still lifting heavy, but in a more smart way," Syndergaard said. "Last year was not necessarily the smartest thing I was supposed to be doing in terms of exercise choice. It's different. It's still taxing workouts. But my body has never felt better."

Video: NYM@PHI: Thor fires fastest strikeout pitch by SP

The Mets' hope is that Syndergaard will resume his place alongside Jacob deGrom as a rock of their rotation, the type of pitcher that even general manager Sandy Alderson admitted is indispensable to the team's success.

The last time Syndergaard was healthy over a full season, he went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA with nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016. His aim, with smarter training, is to do even better in 2018.

"I don't really set goals for myself," Syndergaard said. "Yeah, 200 innings would be nice to get to, but there are so many things that are outside of your control in terms of getting to 200 innings. So I try not to put too much pressure on me. I just want to go out there every five days and lay it all between the lines."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.

New York Mets, Noah Syndergaard