WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One by one, the Nationals went down swinging, looking, swinging some more. This was no garden variety Grapefruit League lineup stocked with Minor Leaguers; to the contrary, when Noah Syndergaard sent the Nationals marching back to their dugout, the backs of their jerseys read "Harper"
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One by one, the Nationals went down swinging, looking, swinging some more. This was no garden variety Grapefruit League lineup stocked with Minor Leaguers; to the contrary, when Noah Syndergaard sent the Nationals marching back to their dugout, the backs of their jerseys read "Harper" and "Turner" and "Rendon."
In one of the more impressive box score feats of any Major Leaguer this spring, Syndergaard struck out seven consecutive Nationals Thursday en route to 3 1/3 scoreless innings in an 8-5 Mets loss. And he did it despite feeling less in command than the last time he set foot in FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, when he ripped off 11 pitches of at least 100 mph.
"I honestly don't think he had his best stuff today," catcher Kevin Plawecki said, "but he made the most of what he had."
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What Syndergaard had was a fastball that rested at 96-98 mph, a low-90s wipeout slider and a mid-80s curve and changeup. As the game wore on, Syndergaard leaned in particular on the latter three pitches, using them to escape a two-on, no-outs jam in the second.
An inning later, Syndergaard set down Trea Turner, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in order, before finishing his day with a Matt Adams strikeout that lowered his spring ERA to 1.08. Syndergaard has struck out 13 batters and walked three in 8 1/3 Grapefruit League innings.
"I wouldn't say I'm in midseason form yet," Syndergaard said. "But it's nice to go out there and have some command issues, and be able to bounce back and finish up strong."
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With three weeks to eliminate whatever flaws remain, Syndergaard seems well primed to make what will likely be his second consecutive Opening Day start. Although the Mets want to reward Jacob deGrom for his strong 2017 season with the Opening Day nod, they have brought deGrom back cautiously from a mid-February bout of back stiffness. As a result, Syndergaard is a good bet to pitch March 29 at Citi Field.
"That would be a huge honor," he said. "Opening Day, it's exciting stuff. But I feel like Opening Day is all about setting the pace for the rest of the season, and I feel like we've got five guys that can do that."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.