PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) New York Mets manager Terry Collins has not officially revealed his opening day starter yet, waiting instead for a spring training announcement.
The worst-kept secret around the Mets is that it will be Noah Syndergaard taking the mound in the top of the first inning at Citi Field when New York opens the season against the Atlanta Braves.
That doesn’t mean the right-hander considers himself the staff ace.
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”I really wouldn’t say I’m the leader of the staff. I think we’re all leaders in our own way and we’re all pulling for one another,” Syndergaard said at the club’s spring training home on Sunday, the day before pitchers and catchers report. ”It’s like a brotherhood within the team. It’s really something cool to be a part of.”
However, Syndergaard has major factors that play in his favor to be the Mets’ first starting pitcher this year.
For starters, he’s young, strong, reliable and durable.
In a clubhouse that featured a rotation that ranked among the most oft-injured last year, Syndergaard was the Last Pitcher Standing as the long season unfolded.
Righties Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey had problems from the start, with both being injured in the spring and seeing their seasons cut short by surgeries.
Lefty Steven Matz had a nagging bone spur and saw his season end because of a shoulder issue that developed.
Prized right-hander Zack Wheeler had Tommy John surgery in March 2015, made one appearance in a Florida State League game for High A St. Lucie and was shut down.
Syndergaard, whose nickname is Thor, ultimately could have had another moniker: The Healthy One.
”As far as Terry mentioning (the opening day starter nod), that’s just a huge honor to me. I’m here to answer the call,” said Syndergaard, who is recovering from offseason bronchitis and flu. ”Whatever the team needs, I’m here to fill that job.”
When Collins needed a starter for the win-or-go-home NL wild-card game against the San Francisco Giants, the manager turned to his workhorse.
Syndergaard, 24, more than held his own in a classic pitchers’ duel with southpaw Madison Bumgarner.
He didn’t allow a San Francisco hit until the sixth and worked seven scoreless, striking out 10 in an overpowering outing New York has grown accustomed to.
The Mets ultimately lost 3-0 in Bumgarner’s second consecutive shutout in the winner-take-all game.
Syndergaard has bulked up some in the offseason, training at a new facility, monitoring his diet more closely and consuming more protein.
He said the new workouts are more tailored to what he is trying to accomplish, which is to improve on his 14-9 mark, 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts last season.
Almost inconceivably, he also wants to throw harder.
Last season he routinely reached 100 mph on his fastball, which averaged 97.9 for the season.
That number was tops in the majors among qualified starting pitchers.
”I always want to throw harder and make the game easier,” he said. ”I felt my velocity jumped up last year from my rookie season. I’ll try to raise that bar.”
However, he realizes pitching isn’t always about raring back and firing it as hard as he can.
He said his offseason work and preparation should help make him more comfortable in this third season.
”Hopefully, it allows me to go deeper into games with more ease, but also focusing on and maintaining my flexibility,” he said. ”Pitching’s not just max effort; it’s all about being fluid.”