Noah Syndergaard adjusts to life with the angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Those who vividly remember Noah Syndergaard on the mountaintop, flying hair and sizzling fastball, might not recognize the 2022 version of the man they called Thor.

The long hair is still there, even though the 100-mile-per-hour fastball has become a memory after two years lost to injury. But during Syndergaard’s first year with the Los Angeles Angels, a new teammate helped reinvent the Texan into something decidedly more Californian.

“He’s from Texas, but he loves the beach,” Angels right-hander and Anaheim native Michael Lorenzen said of Syndergaard’s roots in Mansfield, Texas. “I showed him and got him pretty well run in. 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 houses are close to each other and close to the beach.

“Every morning this winter we would meet at the beach, do our routine there, condition, get in the water, then head to where we practice and do all our throws,” said Lorenzen said.

Since those hesitant first steps into life in his new home, Syndergaard’s return this summer has gone smoothly, even as his squad has started to sink. With the Mets in town for a weekend streak, Syndergaard, in his first healthy season since 2019, is 4-4 with a 3.69 ERA over nine starts. He allowed two runs or less in six of his starts.

He did his best work at home, going 3-1 and 1.48 ERA in five starts at Angel Stadium. Despite this, the Angels chose not to field him 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 on Sunday. But in a nod to the unusual challenges facing Angels pitchers, the team uses a six-man rotation. The idea is to take the pressure off Syndergaard, who has pitched a total of two innings the previous two seasons, and Shohei Ohtani, the team’s two-way superstar, who serves as the designated hitter when not pitching.

What Mets fans will miss is getting a glimpse of a version of Syndergaard that’s less reliant on mastering every hitter he faces.

“I faced him many times when he was with the Mets,” said veteran receiver Kurt Suzuki, now with the Angels. “And it looks like he’s throwing more now.”

Syndergaard’s fastball no longer cringes, averaging 94 mph (she hit 97 in her last start against Boston on Monday). But he makes up for that by throwing fewer four-seam fastballs (23.1%) and a higher percentage of sinkers (27.6) and substitutions (24.9). Mix in sliders (16.7) and a few curves (7.7), and today’s Syndergaard is far from the cocky rookie who helped lead the Mets to the 2015 World Series with a big fastball and a willingness to send a message with where he started it. .

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

“I try to give the same attention to my training, my nutrition and my recovery,” he said. “It’s not against each other. And it is above all training that should take place in the off-season. You cannot improve during the season because you have to manage your workload. The most important thing is the ability to compete on the field.

His immediate comfort with Los Angeles came from his relationship with general manager Perry Minasian, who was a scout in the Toronto organization when the Blue Jays drafted Syndergaard in the first round in 2010. Minasian was Toronto’s director of pro scouting when they included Syndergaard in December. 2012 exchange for RA Dickey.

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

The two discussed accelerating the slope of the mound on his delivery and the conviction of all his throws.

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

No one here expects Syndergaard to regain his old speed. But for a work in progress, he impressed his teammates and coaches.

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

To start, Wise and Syndergaard looked at video from the right-hander’s 2018 (13-4, 3.03 ERA) and 2019 (10-8, 4.28) seasons, when his business was at its best.

“Guys who have had elbow surgery and are a little scared to throw the slider,” Wise said. “It’s something we jumped on and we feel really good where it is right now.”

Phil Nevin, named 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 had only had casual conversations before this spring, Nevin noticed something straight 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 people, which is good. In terms of getting the guys to work, to run, they kind of follow his example.

He said Syndergaard directs the Angels rotation to the bullpen before games to support the warming starter. Nevin said it was something CC Sabathia did with the Yankees, “and I love it.”

Not that everything is perfect. The burglary, getting to know each other is still going on, especially for the Seekers. Suzuki said that during the Washington days, Max Scherzer told him he thought it took half a season for a catcher and a pitcher to really feel comfortable with one another. other, “and I believe it”. Syndergaard main receiver Max Stassi said he wasn’t sure what to expect when they started.

“After two years without pitching, for him to come in and have the success he’s had, it’s fun to see,” Stassi said.

On the home front, to hear Lorenzen tell it, things worked out well, with Syndergaard quickly adjusting to the Southern California lifestyle.

“Well, he listens to a lot more Stick Figure, reggae music,” Lorenzen said. “When you go to the beach and take vitamin D, you’re just in a better mood. It’s nice to have blue skies, sunshine, knowing you’re going to be playing every day, no delays.

Mix in a few specialties from their favorite taco shop — “steak tacos, carne asada,” Lorenzen said — and a career that started strong in New York can settle into a much calmer vibe in its new surroundings.

Lance B. Holton