In his first start, Syndergaard’s heaters ranged between 91-93 mph, sparking questions about whether he could return to the level of his early career. But as the Spring Training schedule has worn on, it seems as if the attention has shifted away from Syndergaard’s velocity and towards the rest of his skill set.
For the Dodgers’ coaching staff, that’s a testament to the right-hander's level of focus since arriving at Camelback Ranch.
“I think the biggest takeaway initially is his command of the baseball,” manager Dave Roberts said before the Dodgers’ 5-2 loss to the Cubs on Saturday. “[Before] I didn’t appreciate the command that Noah has with the fastball, the change, and the breaking ball. He’s a very tireless worker. All that stuff, the velocity, the stuff is going to show with the results. I feel confident with that.”
Syndergaard worked efficiently against Chicago, inducing plenty of soft contact. He struck out four and walked none in 4 1/3 innings while only giving up one run on a Yan Gomes solo homer.
Syndergaard’s first pitch on Saturday was 94 mph -- a tick up from his max velocity of 93 mph in his previous start -- and his fastball stayed within the 91-94 mph range throughout the day. During the start, Syndergaard said that he was looking back towards the radar gun on the scoreboard, not out of concern, but just as a way to understand where his stuff is at.
After his outing, Syndergaard noted that he felt much more secure with where he’s at compared to this time last year.
“Yeah, I think as far as confidence to be able to get hitters out with any pitch at a given time, trusting the conviction of every pitch,” said Syndergaard. “The stuff isn’t where it was in the past, but my conviction and competitive nature has skyrocketed more than it was before.”
After three Cactus League appearances, the 30-year-old Texas native has given up just four hits and one run, striking out eight while walking none. And as the Dodgers reach the portion of Spring Training when their pitchers are stretching out the length of their outings, Syndergaard is beginning to settle into a groove.
“I think it’s starting to get 1 percent better, just continue that trend,” he said. “Going out there and competing, my stuff is playing well right now. I just want to focus on getting 1 percent better every time I touch a baseball, and every time I get on the field to compete, then I think we’re going to be in a really good situation for the beginning of the season.”
The Dodgers feel as though Syndergaard will be able to improve from last season, when he posted a 3.94 ERA with the Angels and Phillies. That belief stems from his attention to detail in workouts and bullpen. Each morning, Syndergaard can be seen discussing the details of his delivery with pitching coaches Mark Prior and Connor McGuiness, game planning his outings with bench coach Danny Lehmann, ensuring that he homes in on repeatability and consistency.
“His work ethic and determination to tap into that guy he was before is pretty remarkable to witness,” said McGuiness. “But I think one thing we’re trying to get him to recognize is that the current version of himself is pretty dang good, with that ability to pound the zone. He’s got six pitches that he can put wherever he wants, with movement.”
The overarching belief is that Syndergaard’s velocity will see a gradual uptick as his outings continue. But regardless of what the number on the screen says, he feels as though he’s in a good spot and just wants to keep that trend going.
“I think towards the end, I was able to go on autopilot,” said Syndergaard. “As many of us know, being internal on the mound has been my Achilles' heel my whole career. It’s encouraging … just focusing on the external results and getting the hitters out.”