Seven weeks into the season, it seems fair to assume that Angels pitcher Noah Syndergaard will not be returning to the days of Thor, the triple-digit fastball he threw for the New York Mets from 2015 to 2019 failing to make the cross-country trip to Anaheim.
But as Syndergaard showed in Tuesday night’s 5-3 victory over the Texas Rangers before 23,791 in Angel Stadium, he doesn’t need to light up the radar gun to be an integral part of what the Angels believe is a playoff-caliber rotation.
The 29-year-old right-hander gave up one run and four hits in eight innings, striking out five and walking none, his only mistake a meaty fastball that Jonah Heim hit for a solo homer in the eighth.
Syndergaard’s four-seam fastball averaged 93.6 mph, well below his 97.8-mph average fastball in 2019, his last season before Tommy John surgery.
But he effectively mixed his 87.5-mph changeup, 93.5-mph sinking fastball, 82-mph slider and an occasional 74-mph curve with his four-seamer to improve to 4-2 with a 3.08 earned-run average in seven starts.
Of Syndergaard’s 93 pitches, 73 were strikes, a career-high 78.5% strike percentage. He threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of 27 batters. He did not have one three-ball count.
“He’s always been a command guy,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “You think big guy, used to throw 97 to 98 mph, but even then, he knew where the ball was going. … I’m not worried about velocity. I’m looking at finish on pitches, and from where I’m standing, the ball is finishing really well through the strike zone.”
Syndergaard was coming off the worst game of his career, failing to make it out of the first inning for the first time in 126 career starts on May 16, when he gave up six runs (four earned), four hits and walked two in a 7-4 loss at Texas. He was determined to atone for the shoddy start Tuesday night.
“My last outing kind of sucked, and I knew I’d be facing Rangers again, so I just put a chip on my shoulder and pitched with a little bit of attitude and tempo,” Syndergaard said. “I was just in attack mode the whole game.”
It took Syndergaard 42 pitches to record two outs in his last start. He needed 45 pitches to record the first 12 outs Tuesday. He retired the first 13 Rangers, Brandon Marsh preserving his perfect game bid when the left fielder leaped above the wall to rob Mitch Garver of a home run to end the fourth.
“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of that,” Syndergaard said. “I couldn’t wait to give him a hug and to celebrate that amazing catch.”
The Rangers didn’t get their first hit until Adolis Garcia dumped a one-out single to right in the fifth. Heim followed with a single to right, but Syndergaard got Nathaniel Lowe to ground out and whiffed Andy Ibanez with a 93-mph fastball.
The Angels scored four runs in the fourth, which began when Jared Walsh’s catchable fly ball to the warning track in right-center fell between Garcia and right fielder Kole Calhoun for a double. Walsh took third on Matt Duffy’s single to left and scored on Luis Rengifo’s groundout to first.
Marsh, who had three hits, reached on an infield single, Duffy scoring when Seager, the Rangers shortstop, threw wild to first for an error. Max Stassi doubled to left, Tyler Wade bunted for an RBI single, and Andrew Velazquez hit a sacrifice fly.
Walsh led off the fifth with a homer to right-center for a 5-0 lead, giving him six hits, two of them homers, in eight career at-bats against Rangers right-hander Dane Dunning.
Syndergaard retired the side in order in the sixth and, from one knee, started a double play on Calhoun’s seventh-inning grounder. After Heim’s eighth-inning homer, Syndergaard retired the next three Rangers.
“Unbelievable,” Marsh said. “He was phenomenal. It was electric out there. The tempo was up. He was hitting his spots, throwing strikes. It was super fun to play behind.”
Taylor Ward sat out his third straight game because of a nerve injury in his neck and right shoulder, but he was available to pinch-hit. He still feels some discomfort throwing and won’t be able to play the field until that dissipates. … Pitcher Griffin Canning decided after a Monday visit to a back specialist to rehabilitate the stress reaction in his lower back in hopes of pitching this season instead of undergoing season-ending surgery. … The June 12 game against the New York Mets in Angel Stadium has been picked up by ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” and will start at 4 p.m.