Syndergaard relishing fresh opportunity with Cleveland

July 28th, 2023

CHICAGO -- It’s been a whirlwind of a 24-hour span for .

He was heading out the door on Wednesday night, ready to catch a plane to Reno, Nev., to make a rehab start the next day when his phone rang, notifying him that he had been traded to the Guardians. Suddenly, Syndergaard's only concern was figuring out how to get on a red-eye flight to Chicago. By 8 a.m., he was with his new team.

Amidst the logistical scramble, Syndergaard was able to feel a mix of emotions. For a pitcher who has been struggling this season, there was excitement that a change of scenery will be best for him. At the same time, there was disappointment, thinking about how the first half of his season panned out.

“My time with the Dodgers didn’t necessarily go as planned,” Syndergaard said. “Didn’t really blossom into the pitcher I wanted to be.”

The pitcher Syndergaard wanted to be was exactly who he was early in his career: a flamethrowing righty who thrust himself into the spotlight, placing fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 2015, then earning NL Cy Young and NL MVP votes in an All-Star season in ‘16 after striking out 218 batters in 183 2/3 innings with a 2.60 ERA. But when Syndergaard reached the '20 season, he learned he needed Tommy John surgery and everything changed.

This year, Syndergaard has pitched to a 7.16 ERA, his fastball velocity is in the low 90s and he hasn’t been shy to express the mental hurdles he’s battling. In May, he started to have problems with a blister on his right middle finger, which became the perfect escape for him to get placed on the injured list in June and try to get himself back on track.

“It's kind of hard to change the tires on a car while it’s still moving,” Syndergaard said. “That was just a nice break to adjust some issues.”

But the more you struggle when coming back from injury, the more people try to help.

“I think over the last two years, I’ve had a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” Syndergaard said. “I think it’s going out there and not really listening to what people think I should or should not be doing, but going out there and feeling and doing what feels good and natural to me.”

So, how will the Guardians get the most out of him?

This is an organization known for its pitching development. Maybe most of the success comes from working with up-and-coming hurlers rather than ones who have already experienced tremendous success in the Majors. Nonetheless, if there’s a club that can get through to a pitcher, the Guardians have one of the best chances. And when Syndergaard was ushered into manager Terry Francona’s office to meet with his new skipper and pitching coach Carl Willis, he probably heard different words than he’s been used to.

“We asked him, ‘What’s important to you?’” Francona said. “So often, I think managers and pitching coaches start out and they just talk. We wanted him to talk. And he did, he did a good job. Carl was like, ‘OK, let’s simplify things. I’m not going to say anything to you right away. I want to watch. I don’t want to just jump in and make [stuff] up.’ Carl’s really good about that.”

The biggest reason the Guardians traded Amed Rosario to the Dodgers was to free up shortstop, so they can figure out who will play the position for the foreseeable future. If they could get a pitcher who could eat up innings in return, great. But Cleveland isn't putting any expectations on Syndergaard. And maybe by doing that, he can blossom the way he thought he would with Los Angeles.

“I just really appreciate the already open and honest dialogue that I’m getting from Tito,” Syndergaard said. “I understand it’s a really young team. I just want to add some value in veteran leadership to the young guys and just work on being the best version of Noah I can be.”

Syndergaard is scheduled to make his first start for the Guardians on Monday in Houston. He hasn’t pitched in a big league game since he went on the IL after his appearance on June 7. But no matter what his numbers show, he knows he can at least bring leadership to a young rotation.

The rest is an added bonus.

“We told him, we just want to see the best of him,” Francona said. “If we see that, everybody’s going to be happy.”