Noah Syndergaard will take the mound for the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night when they face the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, having answered questions anyone might have had regarding his ability to make a successful return from Tommy John surgery.
Syndergaard, who signed a one-year, $21 million contract with Los Angeles after six seasons with the New York Mets, not only earned a victory in his first start of the season last Saturday, he outpitched Justin Verlander and beat the defending American League champion Houston Astros.
Pre-surgery, Syndergaard touched 100 mph with his fastball, but it averaged slightly below 95 in his first start. But as was the case with Tommy John himself and so many other pitchers who have undergone the same surgery, Syndergaard has transformed himself into more of a pitcher than a thrower.
The right-hander still relies on his fastball, but against the Astros, his changeup was especially good, and he wasn’t afraid to use it, throwing it 28 percent of the time (21 times out of 76 total pitches). He’s not relying so much on getting strikeouts, but on being more economical with his pitches, and his performance overall impressed Astros manager Dusty Baker.
“Early in the year, you’re not ready to hit breaking balls and changeups,” Baker said. “He threw a good game. He’s changed his format some. He was power before, but now he’s pitching. He shut us down, shut down a very good offense.”
He has never faced the Rangers, but he faced Rangers shortstop Corey Seager when Seager played for the Dodgers. Seager has hit Syndergaard well, with seven hits in 10 at-bats, including a home run and two doubles.
Taylor Hearn (0-0, 2.25) will start for Texas, coming off a no-decision Monday in his first start of the season. The left-hander gave up eight hits in four innings, but only allowed one run and struck out six as the Rangers lost 6-4 to the Colorado Rockies in extra innings.
Hearn pitched mostly out of the bullpen last year but did get 11 starts in 42 appearances and earned a spot in the rotation with a strong spring this year.
“The analogy I’ve used is, the dart player who can barely hit the dartboard, and now they can basically get right around that bull’s-eye every time,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward explained. “That’s where he’s at. He’s really refined his stuff and just continues to do that. He knows he doesn’t have to be perfect to beat the team we’re facing. He’s able to deal with adversity much better. He’s able to execute better, just in a much better place.”
Hearn, like Syndergaard, says he understands that pitching to contact is a good way to conserve pitch count and consequently pitch deeper into the game.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to stop chasing strikeouts and more so just make them put the ball in play and trust my stuff,” Hearn, 27, said. “It’s been paying off for the last two years from when I was in the bullpen and in the rotation.”
Hearn is 1-1 with a 4.87 ERA in six career games (two starts) against the Angels. Los Angeles outfielder Jo Adell has hit Hearn well, going 4 for 6 with two home runs. But Hearn has had success against Shohei Ohtani, limiting the defending American League MVP to one hit in seven at-bats, with four strikeouts.
–Field Level Media