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Never complacent, Thor strives for excellence

March 30, 2017

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When asked earlier this week if he can be Major League Baseball's best pitcher -- better than Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer and Chris Sale and take your pick -- Noah Syndergaard did not pause, nor think, nor hesitate in responding: "That's the plan. That's

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When asked earlier this week if he can be Major League Baseball's best pitcher -- better than Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer and Chris Sale and take your pick -- Noah Syndergaard did not pause, nor think, nor hesitate in responding: "That's the plan. That's the hope."
"My pitches are all plus," said Syndergaard, who will take the Citi Field mound Monday at 1:10 p.m. ET vs. the Braves. "I've got my confidence to go out there and do that. That's not necessarily the goal, but I want to pitch like I'm supposed to win the [National League] Cy Young Award. If it happens that I win it, then so be it. Right now, I just want to focus on being the best pitcher I can be."
If that sounds arrogant, Syndergaard has earned his chance to be a little brash. Named the Mets' Opening Day starter way back in February, Syndergaard reached rarified air last season, finishing eighth in NL Cy Young Award voting with a 14-9 record, a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts. He led all starting pitchers in average fastball and slider velocity, according to Statcast™. He made his first All-Star team.
In short, a year after telling the Royals that they could meet him 60 feet, six inches away from home plate, Syndergaard backed up his bravado with one of the best seasons of any Mets starter in history.
And that's a pretty good history.
"It's kind of crazy, really, to look back on it," Syndergaard said. "2015 was my rookie season, and then the year after that, 2016, at such a young age competing for Cy Young candidacy, that was pretty cool to look back on now."
Added Syndergaard: "I expect to do better than I did last year."

Syndergaard is traveling more than one path to that goal. Off the field, Syndergaard remains the weight room fanatic he has always been, boasting that he arrived at camp 17 pounds heavier than last season, ready to add velocity to his 101-mph upper limit. While manager Terry Collins later doused that narrative, admitting that Syndergaard actually grew a few pounds leaner over the past calendar year, he has earned his "Thor" nickname no matter what the scale reads.
Ever conscious of his diet, Syndergaard sees nutrition and exercise as his tickets to avoid the types of arm injuries that befell teammates Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and others.
On the field, Syndergaard plans to recalibrate his repertoire. Rather than rely on his four-seam fastball and slider, as he did in 59 percent of all situations last year, Syndergaard aims to place more trust in his sinker and changeup -- both potentially devastating weapons against left-handed hitters. Instead of focusing on his four-seamer, which he threw nearly twice as often as his two-seamer in 2016, Syndergaard plans to make his sinker his primary fastball.
"He's got so many good pitches that I feel like we can throw anybody anything in any count," catcher Rene Rivera said.
The fact that Rivera, a defensive-minded catcher, is likely to start on Opening Day hints at one of Syndergaard's few remaining weaknesses: an inability to control the running game. Syndergaard can also still, at times, be inefficient on the mound, averaging 16 pitches per inning last season. He has yet to prove he can deliver a 200-plus-inning workload.

But Syndergaard is merely 24 years old. All the ingredients are there for him, he knows, to become the game's best pitcher.
Why not try?
"You just don't ever become complacent with anything," Syndergaard said. "That's human nature is always wanting to achieve bigger and better things. … Going in the wrong direction is just not acceptable to me."

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