“I asked him earlier today if he still gets nervous before starts, because he just goes out there and has as much fun as possible,” Syndergaard said. “And I still get nervous before I go out there and throw.”
Jitters or not, Syndergaard dominated the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. The New York Mets’ young flamethrower retired the first eight batters he faced before surrendering a double to Jeremy Hazelbaker. Syndergaard then completed his three-inning outing by coaxing a flyout from Kolten Wong.
Travis Taijeron blasted a three-run homer in a four-run seventh as the Mets went on to beat the Cardinals 7-2 at Tradition Field.
Ty Kelly’s run-scoring groundout with the bases loaded plated the tiebreaking run earlier in the seventh. Ruben Tejada had produced a two-run homer against Mitch Harris in the fifth. That evened the score at 2 an inning after Matt Adams delivered a two-run shot against left-hander Josh Smoker.
Taijeron, 27, hit .274 with 25 homers and 71 RBIs in 478 plate appearances last season with Triple-A Las Vegas. He had a .393 on-base percentage, but also struck out 147 times in 394 at-bats. The Mets drafted him in the 18th round in 2011 out of Cal Poly Pomona.
“His power that he has is legitimate power,” Las Vegas hitting coach Jack Voigt said. “And probably his best power is to right-center. So when he stays through the ball and gets good pitch selection, he can be dangerous.”
As for Taijeron’s sizable strikeout rate, Voigt added: “Everybody can work on more contact, but the tradeoff is: Do you start changing a guy? He’s getting his walks. And I think he led the league in hit by pitches. He’s not afraid of the inside pitch. Sometimes if it ain’t broke, you don’t try to fix it. Can we make improvements? I think that’s what we’re always trying to look for.”
Said Taijeron about his 2015 season: “I played consistently in the outfield, every single day. Having that consistency and having my routine, it really helped out during the season. … I’m trying to cut down on the strikeouts. I shrink the zone a little bit. But when it comes down to two strikes, I say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to open it up and expand my strike zone more.’ I’ve got to do a better job of that. I’ve been working on it.”
Meanwhile, Syndergaard’s fastball routinely hit 98 mph as he retired nine of the 10 batters he faced. He struck out two Cardinals in a 38-pitch effort. He was pleased with his mechanics and the effectiveness of his slider. His changeup, a work in progress, showed improvement.
“I felt great out there,” said Syndergaard, who is headed for the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. “It’s just nice getting out there and getting your feet wet. I was a little amped up. It’s been a long wait to get on the mound, and to be able to get out there and compete. But, overall, l I think it was a pretty solid performance. There are a few things I’d like to continue to work on, just to make the game easier than it can be.”
What’s next: The Mets travel to Viera for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Washington Nationals on Friday. Steven Matz, pitching with only three days between starts, takes the mound opposite Stephen Strasburg. Matz is expected to throw three innings for the second straight outing. See the Mets' full travel list here.