CINCINNATI -- Noah Syndergaard never felt better on a mound this season than he felt Monday night at Great American Ball Park.
He had his best start with the Phillies in a 4-3 victory over the Reds. He allowed eight hits, three runs, no walks and struck out six in seven-plus innings, as the Phils moved into the second NL Wild Card, taking a half-game lead over the Padres. Syndergaard threw only 77 pitches, including 61 strikes. It was Syndergaard’s highest strike percentage (79.2 percent) in a game in his career (minimum 25 pitches). Syndergaard is 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts with the Phillies. He has allowed five runs in 13 innings in his past two starts as he continues to make adjustments with pitching coach Caleb Cotham and assistant pitching coach and director of pitching development Brian Kaplan.
“I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be,” Syndergaard said. “The strides that I’ve made in two rotation turns with Caleb and Kap have been amazing. I’ve never had more confidence on the mound this year. It shows in my stuff and my abilities to execute pitches.”
Syndergaard had Tommy John surgery in 2020, when he pitched for the Mets. As he worked his way back, he felt like he needed to change.
“[I] was trying to reinvent myself because I thought I had blown out for a reason,” Syndergaard said.
He tried to change from a power pitcher’s delivery to “fit the mold of a hyper-mobile, smaller guy’s delivery.”
“It didn’t really work for me,” he said. “But the reason I chose to do that is just because I thought it was more efficient, I thought it’d make me a better pitcher, but it’s just not how I’m built.”
Essentially, he complicated things.
The Phillies are making things simpler.
“I’m just going to focus on lifting and moving down the mound as fast as I can and being explosive and trusting my stuff,” Syndergaard said.
He trusted his stuff enough Monday to throw first-pitch strikes to 24 of 28 batters. It is such an advantage for a pitcher to do that. Batters this season are hitting .214 after they fall behind 0-1. They are hitting .255 after they get ahead 1-0. Syndergaard knows it. He still remembers the scout who visited his home when he was a teenager. The scout asked him about the best pitch in baseball.
“Fastball? Changeup?” Syndergaard said.
“Strike one,” the scout said.
“That’s the most important part of winning the battle,” Syndergaard said. “It’s getting ahead and staying ahead. It’s just something I try to do every start.”
It helps to get support both offensively and defensively, too. The Phillies had scored only two runs in their previous four games. Interim manager Rob Thomson reminded his players before the game that they are one of baseball’s best teams when hitting with runners in scoring position, ranking sixth in baseball in batting average (.265) and seventh in slugging percentage (.440) and tied for 20th in strikeouts (218). Nick Castellanos ended the team’s 20-inning scoreless drought in the third with a two-out RBI single to left.
Edmundo Sosa’s two-out single in the third scored two more runs. Sosa’s double to left in the fifth scored another run.
Sosa’s three RBIs were the second most in a game in his career.
But the hits weren’t what people talked about after the game. They talked about Sosa’s defense, including a backhand he made on a ball down the third-base line to end the fourth and a sliding play up the middle to start the fifth.
“I’m going to try to get more balls hit to him and have him save the day,” Syndergaard said.
“The plays that he’s made here have stuck out more than anything I saw when I played against him in the Central,” Castellanos said.
Sosa said he’s trying to fit in.
“Honestly, I’m known around the league for my glove, my good defense,” Sosa said through the team’s interpreter. “But it’s really about all the work I put in every day. I take my job very seriously.”
So does Syndergaard. He has dived into his changes with the Phillies, who are 3-0 when he starts.
“It’s just awesome to be a part of this team,” he said. “I look forward to the journey.”