NEW YORK -- Of all the ways the Mets' season has frayed, few have proven as significant as Noah Syndergaard's absence. A preseason National League Cy Young Award candidate who aimed to take his place among the game's elite, Syndergaard instead strained his right index finger in May and missed most of the next two months.
His return in a 4-2 win over the Nationals on Friday at Citi Field offered the Mets a glimpse of what they had been missing. Far from his dominant best, Syndergaard shook off seven weeks of rust in allowing one run in five innings, hitting 99 mph on the radar gun and lowering his ERA to 2.97.
"It sucks missing the last [seven] weeks, especially with a minor finger issue," Syndergaard said. "But it felt great getting back out there in a competition setting on a big league mound, and I look forward to making each start after that every five days.
"It's a funny thing with fingers -- you kind of need them to pitch. But I'm just happy to be back out there and healthy."
Although the Nationals put the leadoff man on base in all five of Syndergaard's innings, he permitted just one to score -- opposing pitcher Tanner Roark, whose ball down the right-field line in the third inning took a funky bounce off the top of the wall, which allowed Roark to reach third base with a triple. The next batter, Wilmer Difo, drove him home with a double.
Syndergaard added a hit of his own in the second inning, singling home Amed Rosario. That stretched the Mets' lead back out to three runs after they scored three in the first off Roark on RBIs from Jose Bautista, Wilmer Flores and Devin Mesoraco.
On a pitch count of around 80-85, Syndergaard wound up throwing 75 as he visibly tired in the middle innings, according to both Mets manager Mickey Callaway and his Nationals counterpart, Dave Martinez. Perhaps that is to be expected from a pitcher who had not faced a big league lineup in nearly two months. Perhaps it also underscores how Syndergaard's return was less an achievement unto itself than a means to an end.
Nothing Syndergaard does the rest of this year will prove his ability to stay healthy after missing significant chunks of the past two seasons, though making every start from here on out would certainly be a step in the right direction. As is his custom, Callaway is more interested in the process -- particularly in what Syndergaard does between starts, focusing on both his pitching mechanics and his flexibility as much as his strength.
"You see the type of shape he's in," Callaway said. "He's working the right way now, as well. Working on the right things, and not just working hard, is essential for him to stay healthy because of who he is, how hard he throws and the weapons that he has. He's doing all those things to give him the best chance to stay healthy."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Three in the first: The first three Mets batters to face Roark all rapped out hits, setting up New York's three-run rally in the first. After Brandon Nimmo and Asdrubal Cabrera singled, Bautista ripped a pitch into left for an RBI knock. Two batters later, Flores lifted a sacrifice fly, then Mesoraco sent another single up the middle to plate Michael Conforto.
Rosario's second-inning triple was his third in four games and his fifth of the season, setting a career high in his first full year as a big leaguer. Over his last four games, Rosario is batting .583 with five extra-base hits.
"I feel much better with my mechanics, and with my confidence, too," said Rosario, who has raised his average 15 points in four days.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Nimmo ended the game with a bit of flair, racing in to make what Statcast™ classifies as a four-star catch on Adam Eaton's popup to center. The ball had a 46-percent catch probability, according to Statcast™, but Nimmo tumbled to the ground to grab it, and help Robert Gsellman finish off his fourth save.
HE SAID IT
"If they wanted to trade me tomorrow, I really have no say in what they do. I can't say enough about my time being a New York Met. I love the city, I've embraced them and I think they've embraced me, and for right now, I'm a Met. I'm just going to continue to play baseball." -- Syndergaard, on trade rumors
One of several Mets with trade rumors swirling around him, Zack Wheeler will look to cap a positive first half of the season when he starts a 4:10 p.m. ET game Saturday against the Nationals. Wheeler, who owns a 3.44 ERA since the start of June, will oppose rookie right-hander Austin Voth in his Major League debut.