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Syndergaard back on mound, eyes a return

Mets hoping ace can start two games down the stretch
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

MIAMI -- Marlins Park's retractable roof was open Monday afternoon, giving the sun an avenue to beat down on Noah Syndergaard. Dressed in a royal blue T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, Syndergaard twice climbed atop the mound, sweating as he fired 39 pitches in a simulated game.

Syndergaard threw his fastball, changeup, slider and curveball, joking that he wanted to "embarrass" a pair of stand-in batters, coaches Tom Goodwin and Ryan Ellis. The session marked his first time facing live hitters since a Minor League rehab game Sept. 7.

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MIAMI -- Marlins Park's retractable roof was open Monday afternoon, giving the sun an avenue to beat down on Noah Syndergaard. Dressed in a royal blue T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, Syndergaard twice climbed atop the mound, sweating as he fired 39 pitches in a simulated game.

Syndergaard threw his fastball, changeup, slider and curveball, joking that he wanted to "embarrass" a pair of stand-in batters, coaches Tom Goodwin and Ryan Ellis. The session marked his first time facing live hitters since a Minor League rehab game Sept. 7.

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Following that start, the Mets backed Syndergaard off his throwing program due to general body soreness. Now, Syndergaard is making his last-ditch effort at a return from the lat injury that has sidelined him since April.

"It's just a personal thing for me," Syndergaard said. "I'm getting really anxious. I spent those three or four months rehabbing. At this point right now, if they're just going to shut me down, really what was the point of all that? I feel like I've worked hard in the rehab process. I just want to be able to get out there and prove that I can come back from that kind of injury healthy."

The Mets' updated plan is to have Syndergaard start two games down the stretch on a strict pitch count -- certainly no more than the 39 he threw Monday, giving him a chance at maybe two innings per outing. That plan is fluid. If Syndergaard feels discomfort or even significant soreness at any point in the process, the Mets will back up his schedule. He could ultimately appear in one game, not two. He could appear in none at all.

But Syndergaard is committed to returning, and the Mets feel his doing so will help him -- and them -- heading into the offseason.

"I guess the more the better," manager Terry Collins said. "If it's once, great. If it's two times, terrific. We'll wait and see where we're at."

When Syndergaard first tore his right lat muscle on April 30, the Mets believed he would return by July or early August. Instead, Syndergaard suffered multiple minor setbacks in his rehab, which his team treated with extreme caution.

The club knows that Syndergaard, who was 1-2 with a 3.29 ERA in five starts prior to his injury, is too important for them to rush him back at the end of a lost season. New York's best pitcher in 2016, Syndergaard went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA that summer, finishing eighth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. The Mets are confident that, if healthy, he can return to those heights next year.

They are also convinced that allowing Syndergaard to pitch in September, if even for an inning or two, will give both parties significant peace of mind heading into the winter.

"We're checking off boxes," Syndergaard said. "Today was a success. We're just going to see how it plays out tomorrow."

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

New York Mets, Noah Syndergaard