LOS ANGELES -- Noah Syndergaard smacked his glove and put his head down. He began his long walk back to the dugout. There were some scattered boos from the fans.
For Syndergaard and the Dodgers, that visual has become all too familiar this season. After signing a one-year, $13 million deal this offseason, Syndergaard just hasn’t delivered. His struggles continued on Wednesday, when he allowed five runs over five innings in the Dodgers’ 10-6 loss to the Nationals at Dodger Stadium.
“It really sucks,” Syndergaard said. “Right now I just feel like I’m the weakest link on this team. I want to go out there and compete and be successful for the other guys in this clubhouse, but it’s just not working out.”
Sending Syndergaard out every fifth day hasn’t been as successful as both parties hoped this winter. Through 10 starts (not including the one-inning outing he exited with an injured right index finger), Syndergaard has not been effective. His ERA went up to 6.54 after Wednesday’s start, and he has allowed five or more runs four times. The Dodgers are 3-7 in his 10 starts, making him at least partly responsible for almost a third of the team’s losses.
“Trying to make big adjustments in between starts isn’t the easiest,” Syndergaard said. “I would give my hypothetical first-born to be the old me again. I’ll do anything possible to get back to that. I’m expected to go out there and compete, and today I just fell behind a lot of hitters.”
Despite needing 21 pitches, Syndergaard got off to a decent start, getting out of the first inning without allowing a run. That’s about where the positives ended for Syndergaard, another common theme in his starts.
Syndergaard pitched from behind in just about every at-bat early, and that came back to haunt him in the second inning, when Keibert Ruiz and CJ Abrams hit back-to-back homers. The Nationals were able to mount a two-out rally against Syndergaard in the third, erasing the three-run lead the Dodgers' offense gave him in the first inning.
In the fifth, Syndergaard allowed a two-run homer to Jeimer Candelario that put the Nationals ahead for good. It’s the first time this season Washington homered more than twice in a game. They connected for five homers on Wednesday, three of them off Syndergaard.
After his previous start, against Tampa Bay, Syndergaard said that his confidence has been shaken up. He continues to tinker with his mechanics, but nothing has seemed to click. On Wednesday he recorded just one swing and miss, tying the worst performance of his career.
“He’s struggling right now. Several guys are struggling,” said catcher Will Smith. “I know Noah specifically is going to keep working his [behind] off. That’s what he does. No doubt he’ll come back at some point, whether that’s his next start or his start after that. He’s too good of a pitcher not to come back.”
The question is when that next start be. Manager Dave Roberts said the hope is for Syndergaard to take his next turn, against the Reds, but he didn’t want to fully commit to it.
“As an organization, we’ve got to continue to figure out which guys give us the best chance to win on a particular day as far as starters,” Roberts said. “I don’t know right now the plan as far as Noah, when he’s going to start next.”
Given the injuries to the Dodgers’ rotation, it has become increasingly more difficult to take Syndergaard out. Dustin May, Michael Grove, Ryan Pepiot and Julio Urías all being on the injured list has given Syndergaard more leash than his numbers have deserved.
Grove will return from the IL on Saturday, giving the team more depth. Urías is still at least a week away, and May and Pepiot aren't yet on the team’s radar. Once the Dodgers get healthier, however, they’ll have some decisions to make, particularly because of how well rookie Bobby Miller has pitched through two starts.
Despite having the best record in the National League, the Dodgers have some serious questions in the rotation. And they all start with Syndergaard.
“I hate the idea of beginning June as a tryout camp,” Roberts said. “But we’ve got to figure out some stability and dependability as far as what we’re going to get.”