Hard-throwing Noah Syndergaard will be on the mound for the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night when they host the Tampa Bay Rays to begin a three-game series in Anaheim, Calif.
And although the right-hander has returned from the Tommy John surgery that cost him most of two seasons, there still are milestones that need to be reached for a full recovery to be realized.
Two of those milestones came his last time out, when he made 100 pitches and lasted seven innings in a loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday.
It was his longest outing since Sept. 29, 2019, and the most pitches he’s thrown since he threw 108 on Sept. 18, 2019.
“I’m not quite where I want to be yet, but I think that’s just the name of the game when it comes to recovering from Tommy John surgery and not pitching for a few years,” Syndergaard said. “It’s helping me focus on pitching instead of throwing. Once I’m able to get back to my full self, I think it’s going to be better than it was before, because I’m able to throw some actual pitches.
“We’ve got a really good medical staff, strength and conditioning. I trust them to get me back out there in six days or whenever it is.”
Syndergaard (2-1, 2.63 ERA) has been steady in his four starts. He’s lasted at least 5 1/3 innings in every start and has not allowed more than three runs in any of them.
The home run he allowed to Boston’s Rafael Devers his last time out is the only one Syndergaard has allowed this season in 24 innings.
His strikeout numbers are down—5.3 per nine innings compared with 9.6 for his career. But his walks are slightly down also—1.9 per nine innings compared with 2.1 lifetime.
He has faced Tampa Bay only once in his career, getting the loss after allowing five runs and eight hits in four innings.
The Rays will start left-hander Jeffrey Springs, who has been used mostly as a reliever this season. Springs (1-0, 0.69) has made nine appearances, but just one as a starter, when he held the Seattle Mariners to a run on three hits with three strikeouts and no walks in 2 2/3 innings during a 2-1 win on April 28.
The Rays go into the series hot. Despite Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Mariners, they have won six of seven and nine of their past 12.
They also have second baseman Brandon Lowe hitting home runs again after the longest home run drought of his career. Before homering in the fourth inning Saturday in Seattle, he had gone 19 games and 79 plate appearances since his previous home run on April 14.
“There were some mental adjustments, physical adjustments,” Lowe said. “It’s hard to just place one little thing. Hitting is very difficult. You don’t get to just right one thing and be like, ‘OK, this is a fix-all kind of moment.'”
Lowe added that the “drought” didn’t necessarily seem like one.
“It didn’t feel like a home run drought or anything like that,” said Lowe, who still leads the Rays with five homers. “It’s not like I hadn’t been hitting the ball hard. It just hadn’t been in the air.”