'A bittersweet moment': Thor delivers quality start vs. former team

August 23rd, 2023

CLEVELAND -- In his last start, Guardians starter said it felt like he was on ice skates on the mound, but on Tuesday night, he cruised through his first quality start since April 19. The icing on the cake? He made the tremendous leap forward against his former team.

Syndergaard seemed defeated in Cincinnati last week, openly admitting that it was difficult for him to enjoy anything in his life when his performance on the field was so below his standards. There’s no doubt that a start against the Dodgers -- with whom he struggled for more than two months at the beginning of the season and landed on their injured list to have a mental reset -- carried extra weight as he tried to put these difficult memories in the past. And he delivered.

Syndergaard tossed six innings, allowing three runs on four hits with a walk and four strikeouts in the Guardians' 8-3 victory at Progressive Field. Coming into the series, the Dodgers had won 17 of 19 games in August.

“That one just felt really good for me on a personal level, and then just as a team, [too],” Syndergaard said.

The Guardians and Syndergaard know it takes more than one start to break out of a skid that the former All-Star has fallen into. The velocity was down on all of his pitches, but his results were much better than he’s seen in a while.

He got some help from his outfield, especially a nice, over-the-shoulder snag from Will Brennan to end the fifth inning that saved a run from scoring. But with results comes confidence … at least that’s what the Guardians hope.

“I hope it does a lot,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s a good kid and we pull for everybody, but he’s trying, man. He’s been with [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] and he’s been a good listener and he’s been a good communicator with him. Heck yeah, we’re pulling for him.”

There were signs that Syndergaard is moving in the right direction, regardless of at what pace he advances. He gave up a first-inning, two-run homer, but he settled in to give up just one more run in the rest of the five frames he worked. He induced nine whiffs on 47 swings, which may only be 19% of the time, but it marked his most as a Guardian and fourth most of the season.

“How’s he going to respond [after the first inning]?” Brennan said. “And [Syndergaard] came back and gave five innings of one-run ball and kept us in it, especially after that fourth inning [when] we scored two. He goes out for two more innings and throws up zeros. That was awesome to watch him do because we all know how hard he works.”

This one meant a little more, too. It was impossible for it not to. Syndergaard tried so hard to be the pitcher he was at the beginning of his career with the Dodgers this season and fought through mental battles, as he tried to cope with the fact that his velocity isn’t what it used to be. As much as he tried, he didn’t see the success he wanted with Los Angeles.

“It’s a bittersweet moment pitching against the Dodgers just because I formed a lot of friends and brothers over there,” Syndergaard said. “[I'm] reminded of the good in it, but also the bad. I’m reminded that I wasn’t successful over there. Just going over here and having a nice reset I think is really good for me.”

When Syndergaard exited the game, his team trailed by one run. But since he was able to keep the Dodgers at bay in his first quality start in 13 outings, he left the door open for the offense to make a comeback in the seventh inning.

After a Steven Kwan RBI single tied the game, José Ramírez (who was in an 0-for-12 skid entering the game) delivered a go-ahead RBI single before Kole Calhoun launched a three-run homer to put the contest out of reach, allowing Syndergaard to walk away with a no-decision and prevent his second straight loss.

“He’s still Noah Syndergaard,” Brennan said. “Like, all things said, he’s gonna go out there and battle like he has his entire career. He’s said he hasn’t been feeling it, whatever. He’s gonna go out there and battle and that’s all you can ask for out of him.”