GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As soon as Dodgers right-hander Noah Syndergaard threw his first pitch on Tuesday, almost everyone in attendance shifted their attention to the radar gun displayed on the scoreboard at Camelback Ranch.
Syndergaard’s first pitch was clocked at 91 mph. So was his next one. After a couple of heaters, his velocity did tick up to 92 mph, flashing 93 a few times. It was just his first start of the spring, but the lack of velocity was a bit surprising, even for Syndergaard himself.
“Not really,” Syndergaard said when asked if that’s the velocity he expected in his first start. “But it’s just motivation to keep on working. Not too worried about it. I know it’s still in there.”
Early in his career with the Mets, Syndergaard was regarded as one of the hardest throwers in baseball. He averaged 98 mph with his heater over his first couple of big league seasons, routinely touching 100 at a time when it wasn’t as common as it is in 2023.
Injuries, particularly Tommy John surgery, have slowed Syndergaard in recent years, causing the right-hander to see a significant drop-off in his velocity. Last season, Syndergaard averaged 94.1 mph on his four-seamer, forcing him to turn into more of a sinkerballer. But just one interview into his Dodgers career, it was obvious Syndergaard was still trying to get back to the pitcher he once was.
“I see no excuse as to why I can’t get back to 100 mph, and even farther than that,” Syndergaard said in December. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
The Dodgers do expect an uptick in velocity from Syndergaard. The right-hander reaching 93 mph this early in spring was actually considered a success by some people. But consistently getting to triple digits might be a stretch at this point in Syndergaard’s career.
There’s been an overemphasis on his velocity this spring, mostly because of the expectations Syndergaard set this winter. But the right-hander might not need to touch high numbers with the heater in order to be successful.
Syndergaard posted a 3.94 ERA in 25 games with the Angels and Phillies last season. If the Dodgers are able to tap into something, that mark could be even better this season. The key for Syndergaard might be his ability to mix in his slider and changeup. In his first spring outing, his changeup was his best pitch, helping him toss two scoreless innings.
“I think the eight weeks, two months, I was here before Spring Training started, we addressed a lot of the issues I was doing last year,” Syndergaard said. “I think I’m definitely in a way better position right now.”
Syndergaard will be a big piece of the Dodgers’ rotation. Whether he needs high velocity or not will ultimately determine how successful his season is.
“I don’t feel as bullish on it. I think it’ll come naturally,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Right now, I just want to see him making pitches and feeling good about his delivery.”