Thor acing rehab: 'It's going very, very well'

February 28th, 2021

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Clover Park complex spans acres, with a stadium, five additional full baseball fields and other practice areas. It is built to accommodate a professional ballplayer’s every need.

In these early days of Spring Training, ’s worldview is significantly smaller. Syndergaard moves from the weight room to a back field adjacent to the parking lot, which is primarily used for stretching. He spends most of his time at the nearby 10-pack, a group of mounds where Mets pitchers throw bullpen sessions. A short walk from there is the main stadium, where Syndergaard runs sprints and other conditioning drills in the outfield.

That is the extent of his work, which is not unusual for a pitcher 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery. Each day, Syndergaard stretches. He rehabs. He conditions. He lifts. Some days, he throws off a mound -- with the goal of returning to the Mets around midsummer. Others who have undergone Tommy John describe the process as monotonous. It is not a linear recovery, so it is fraught with physical and mental obstacles.

Whatever Syndergaard is thinking or feeling on that journey, he is keeping to himself. Syndergaard has opted not to speak publicly about his rehab process at this time, according to a team spokesman, leaving others to provide windows into it.

“He’s doing everything he’s supposed to be doing,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “The work ethic is never in question with Noah. He’s one of the strongest guys in camp, and it’s going very, very well. He’s progressing as he should.”

This week’s milestone was sliders; Syndergaard threw a few of them in his bullpen session on Saturday -- adding that to a post-surgical repertoire that had previously only included fastballs and changeups. Unlike when Hefner was going through his own rehabilitation a decade ago, the Mets’ blueprint for rehabbing pitchers has become fluid. No longer are Tommy John regimens one-size-fits-all. These days, the team’s performance staff customizes everything based on the player in question.

In Syndergaard’s case, the Mets have targeted June as a reasonable return date, some 15 months post-surgery.

“Everything’s going as expected,” general manager Zack Scott said. “That’s still the plan. I’m sure at some point, the player will want to try to speed that up, because I know he’s competitive and eager to get back on the field. But that’s still the plan going in.”

Practically, the Mets removed Syndergaard’s opportunity to speed things up when they placed him on the 60-day injured list. Because that stint cannot be backdated, Syndergaard won’t be eligible to come off until May 30 at the earliest. Barring any setbacks, he should be throwing to live hitters by that point -- perhaps even nearing rehab games in his quest to return. Mets officials won’t put a timetable on such specifics, except to confirm team president Sandy Alderson’s initial estimate of a June return.

In the interim, Syndergaard has little motivation to deviate from the plan, knowing he still has a minimum of three full months of rehab ahead of him.

“Noah’s been outstanding in terms of controlling his intent and his energy,” Hefner said. “He’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing.”

Before arriving at camp, Syndergaard offered some bite-sized snippets of that work on his Instagram account -- a game of catch here, an exercise set there, and so on and so forth. Since moving his rehab from the Cressey Sports Performance center in Jupiter, Fla., up the Treasure Coast to Port St. Lucie, he has done much of the same under team supervision. Part of his routine involves heaving an oversized medicine ball against a cinderblock wall. On Sunday, Syndergaard huffed and puffed as he completed a speed-skater exercise -- hopping laterally with a small med ball clutched to his chest. Every second or third day, Syndergaard throws a side session under the watchful eyes of Hefner, pitching-analytics coordinator David Lang and others.

What he’s feeling remains more of a mystery. When Syndergaard does return, the Mets hope he can at least approximate the pitcher who went 23-12 with a 3.73 ERA from 2018-19, while striking out more than a batter per inning.

These early days of Spring Training have offered glimpses of that pitcher, however fleeting they might be.

“It’s exciting to see him,” manager Luis Rojas said. “But I know we’ve got to wait for him to go through the process, and get to us when that time comes.”