Noah Syndergaard Adjusts to Life with the Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Those who vividly remember Noah Syndergaard on top of the mountain, hair flying and fastball sizzling, may not be the 2022 version of the man they called Thor.

The long hair is still there, even if the 100-mile-an-hour fastball has turned into a memory lost two years after injuries. But in Syndergaard’s first year with the Los Angeles Angels, a new teammate has helped reinvent the Texan into something that’s decidedly more southern California.

“He is Texas, but he loves the beach,” said Michael Lorenzen, an Angels right-hander and Anaheim native, of Syndergaard’s Mansfield, Texas roots. “I’ve shown him around and broken him in pretty good. And he loves it here. “

Represented by the same agency, Syndergaard and Lorenzen both signed with the Angels as free agents in November – Syndergaard for one year and $ 21 million, Lorenzen for one year and $ 6.75 million. Their homes are close to each other, and close to the beach.

“Every morning this winter, we’d meet up at the beach, do our routine there, condition, get in the water and then head to where we were training and do all of our throwing,” Lorenzen said.

From those first tentative steps into life in his new home, Syndergaard’s comeback this summer has gone swimmingly, even if his team has begun to sink. With the Mets in town for a weekend series, Syndergaard, in his first healthy season since 2019, is 4-4 with a 3.69 ERA over nine starts. He has allowed two or fewer runs in six of his starts.

He’s done his best at home, going 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA in five starts at Angel Stadium. Except that, the Angels didn’t choose to line him up to face his former team, planning to use him instead for a Tuesday start against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With regular rest, Syndergaard would have pitched Sunday. But in a nod to the unusual challenges faced by the Angels pitching staff, the team is using a six-man rotation. The idea is to reduce the strain on Syndergaard, who pitched a total of two innings over the past two seasons, and Shohei Ohtani, the team’s two-way superstar, who serves as a designated hitter when he is not pitching.

What Mets fans will be missing is an appearance of a version of Syndergaard that is less reliant on every batter he faces.

“I encountered a bunch of times when he was with the Mets,” said veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki, now with the Angels. “And it seems like he’s pitching more now.”

Syndergaard’s fastball is no longer teeth-rattling, averaging 94 miles an hour (it touched 97 in its most recent start against Boston on Monday). But he is compensating for that by throwing fewer four-seam fastballs (23.1 percent) and a higher percentage of sinkers (27.6) and changeups (24.9). Mix in the sliders (16.7) and a few curves (7.7), and today’s Syndergaard is far from the cocksure rookie who helped lead the Mets to the 2015 World Series with a big fastball and a willingness to send a message where he threw it. General Chat Chat Lounge

Although he declined to speak with New York media members ahead of the series, in a conversation this spring Syndergaard said he had learned to “work smarter, not necessarily harder.”

“I try to give even my attention to my training, my nutrition and my recovery,” he said. “It’s not one versus the other. And it ‘s training, more importantly, that should take place in the off-season. You can’t get better during the season because you need to manage your workload. The most important thing is the ability to compete on the field. “

His immediate comfort came with Los Angeles general manager Perry Minasian, who was a scout in Toronto’s organization when the Blue Jays drafted Syndergaard in the first round in 2010. Minasian was Toronto’s director of professional scouting when he joined Syndergaard in a December. 2012 trade for RA Dickey.

“He’s the kind of guy who likes big right-handers, and I fit that criteria,” Syndergaard said of the Minasian “He flew up to New York, and some of the things he was voicing were his opinions on things I thought I could do. improve on. “

The two discussed speeding up the slope of the mound in his delivery and having conviction with all of his pitches.

“I’ve never had that before, a general manager trying to help me on the mound,” Syndergaard said. “He watched a lot of baseball in his life, and I trust what his eyes are telling him. I was really encouraged to be presented with a GM who had a game plan that was going to help me get back to my old self. “

Nobody around here expects Syndergaard to regain his old velocity. But for a work in progress, he has impressed his teammates and coaches alike.

“He’s a very, very thoughtful guy, so we have some good conversations,” said Matt Wise, the Angels pitching coach. “The personality off the field doesn’t match the look. He’s a great guy. He asks a lot of questions, he wants a lot of feedback and he’s really a perfectionist. “

To get started, Wise and Syndergaard pored over the right-hander’s 2018 (13-4, 3.03 ERA) and 2019 (10-8, 4.28) seasons, when his stuff was at its best.

“Guys who had elbow surgery and a little gun shy about throwing the slider,” Wise said. “That’s something we jumped on and felt really good about where it is right now.”

Phil Nevin, named as interim manager this week after Joe Maddon was fired, has watched Syndergaard since the right-hander was a Mets prospect at Class AAA Las Vegas in 2014 and 2015, where he would face the Reno teams that Nevin managed. Although they only had casual conversations earlier this spring, Nevin noticed something right away in March that impressed him about Syndergaard.

“A pro,” Nevin said. “Watching him work, the way he goes about his business, he’s been a leader of our staff, which is nice. As far as getting guys to work, to run, they’re kind of following his lead. “

He said Syndergaard herds the Angels’ rotation to the bullpen before games to support the whichever starter is warming up. Nevin said that something that CC Sabathia had done with the Yankees, “and I love it.”

Not that everything is perfect. The break-in, get-to-know you stuff is still happening, especially for the catchers. Suzuki said that in his Washington days, Max Scherzer had told him that he thinks it takes a catcher for a season and a pitcher to become really comfortable with each other, “and I believe that.” Max Stassi, Syndergaard’s primary catcher, said he wasn’t quite sure what to expect when they started.

“After two years without pitching, for him to come in and have the success he has, it has been fun to watch,” Stassi said.

On the home front, to hear Lorenzen tell it, things have been working out well, with Syndergaard quickly adapting to the Southern California lifestyle.

“Well, he’s listening to Stick Figure a lot more, some reggae music,” Lorenzen said. “When you go to the beach and you get some vitamin D, you’re just in a better mood. It’s nice to have blue skies, the sun out, knowing you’re going to play every day, no delays. “

Toss in a few specialties from their favorite taco shop – “steak tacos, carne asada,” Lorenzen said – and a career that began very loudly in New York can settle into a much calmer vibe in its new surroundings.

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