John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
PORT ST. LUCIE -- There are signs of two potentially important developments so far for Noah Syndergaard this spring:
1) Out of the stretch he's significantly quicker to the plate than in the past, seemingly determined to finally keep base-stealers from running at will on him -- "my Achilles heel," he called it on Tuesday.
2) He's throwing his slider at 86-88 mph with more downward break than in the past, creating more velocity separation from his fastball.
Syndergaard allowed one stolen base during his three innings of work against the Marlins on Tuesday, but manager Luis Rojas saw that as an encouraging sign, noting that Wilson Ramos very nearly threw out speedster Magneuris Sierra.
"His times to the plate were a lot better," Rojas said. "That's been one of our goals in camp, not only with Noah but all of our pitching staff. Especially in our division, guys have profiles who have stolen bases and we want to shut that down."
Syndergaard said he's worked in the past at being quicker to home, but not as hard as he is now.
"It's been a huge focus for me," he said. "I like to think I'm quite a bit further along on it than I've ever been. It took a lot of swallowing my pride as far as the need to work on it.
"It's just been my Achilles heel for probably my entire career, and something had to change."
Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said Syndergaard's times to the plate with runners on first ranged from 1.35 seconds, which is his target time, to 1.5 seconds.
"The 1.5 is a little slow for him now," said Hefner, "but it's still a significant improvement from where he was."
As for Syndergaard's 86-88 mph slider, he didn't necessarily say he won't go back to throwing the harder slider that he was searching for so much of last year, but he's experimenting with the slower one and it's getting a lot of swings and misses so far.
Rojas said it's partly the result of Syndergaard's work with Hefner, using different grips on the slider to change speeds and alter the break. And that could be important for him, as several scouts have suggested he needs to throw more off-speed pitches to keep hitters from cheating on his fastball and get back to an elite level.
"The velo separation is a great contrast for him," Rojas said of the slower slider. "All of his pitches last year averaged over 90 miles an hour, except the curveball. The separation now with the slider that has a little bit more action -- it's an action pitch that play off his fastball. That separation and the break that he has right now can do a lot of things for him."