WASHINGTON -- In the days following what was, statistically, the worst start of his career, Noah Syndergaard did not alter his routine in any dramatic way. He may have spent a bit more time than usual with a baseball in his hand, trying to do as much as possible to avoid another blowup. The actual differences between that 10-run outing against the Cubs and Monday’s seven scoreless innings at Nationals Park were also subtle.
On the mound, Syndergaard did his best to stay hyper-aware of his body. He tried to keep his upper half “loose,” while still lining himself up with home plate for as long as possible. Syndergaard's goal was to throw with maximum effort, but only feel like he was pitching at 90 percent, which is only possible if his mechanics are in sync.
In both that regard and the box score, Syndergaard succeeded. During a 7-3 win over the Nationals, he struck out 10, allowed three hits and walked no one. Syndergaard needed only 90 pitches to complete his seven innings, keeping the Mets’ playoff hopes flickering while offering ample evidence that his previous start was nothing more than an aberration.
“I just think it was, ‘I’m not going to let it happen twice,’” manager Mickey Callaway said. “You could see it in his eyes. It felt like that in between starts. He wasn’t happy with what happened the last outing, and he comes out today and steps up huge.”
After allowing a Trea Turner single to open the first inning, Syndergaard retired 16 straight batters before ceding his second hit. Syndergaard, who leads the Majors in fastball velocity this season, averaged 99 mph on both his four- and two-seam variations. He mixed in his customary trio of secondary pitches, generating most of his swings-and-misses with those, relying on them more heavily as the game crept into the late afternoon.
By that time, the Mets had pulled well ahead of the Nationals thanks to a two-run rally in the second inning in which Joe Panik and Rene Rivera knocked in runs, and a five-run outburst in the fourth that was highlighted by Jeff McNeil’s two-run homer. The Mets wound up with the same number of runs -- seven -- that they scored in Syndergaard’s last start. This time, though, seven runs proved more than enough.
“Over the course of the season, you’re going to see some weird things happen,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo said of Syndergaard’s previous start, when he gave up nine hits, three of them home runs. “Guys are inevitably going to have a game or two like that.”
Although Syndergaard mostly agreed, trying not to consider his 10-run blowup as anything more than a fluke, he did use it as motivation to stay more focused on his body during Monday’s outing. Throughout his career, mechanical issues have often troubled him. Even during a recent stretch of eight consecutive quality starts, Syndergaard said his mechanics -- and, in turn, his comfort level on the mound -- were not where he needed them to be.
So Syndergaard remained mindful of all that throughout his outing against the Nationals, focusing in particular on staying loose and athletic. When he succeeds, it becomes easier for him not just to throw strikes, but to control the ball within the zone. It becomes easier for Syndergaard to generate swinging strikes and soft contact and the like -- all the things he so desperately tried to accomplish in that last start, too.
Most important, it becomes easier for Syndergaard to repeat that sort of thing week after week, month after month.
“It’s all about how you can have a short-term memory,” Syndergaard said. “Forget, and move on.”