August 11, 2022

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Thor's Texas-sized homecoming ends in victory

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ARLINGTON — Despite pitching in the Major Leagues for seven years and making 123 career appearances, Angels right-hander Noah Syndergaard had never pitched in his home state of Texas until Saturday against the Rangers.

Syndergaard, who grew up roughly 20 miles south of Arlington in nearby Mansfield, Texas, made the most of his homecoming, throwing six strong innings in a 7-2 win over the Rangers at Globe Life Field. Syndergaard, who spent the previous six seasons with the Mets, has gotten off to a strong start with his new club, as he’s 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 11 1/3 innings through his first two outings.

“I think there’s a little bit of added pressure because you want to go out there and pitch well in front of your family and friends,” said Syndergaard, who donned a black cowboy hat while speaking to the media. “But you still have to treat it like a normal game and I’m very pleased with the results.”

He allowed two runs on five hits Saturday and didn’t walk a batter after walking two in his season debut against the Astros on April 9. He also struck out four, which was an improvement on his one strikeout against Houston.

Syndergaard again relied heavily on his sinker and changeup, but he also had success with his curveball. His sinker averaged 94.7 mph, while he registered six swings and misses with his changeup and four with his curveball.

“That’s the thing — he’s a big guy, so you think he just throws hard, but his changeup and breaking ball are outstanding,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “And with command. I can’t emphasize that enough. That’s the difference between him and a lot of other guys. He commands all of his pitches, especially his offspeed pitches.”

Syndergaard noted his velocity isn’t quite where it was before the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the 2020 season and saw him throw just two innings at the big league level last year. But he believes it’s helping him become a better pitcher. And the velocity should return with time.

“I feel like coming back from TJ, I don’t have triple-digit stuff necessarily quite just yet, but that’s my understanding that it happens with guys coming back their first year,” Syndergaard said. “But I feel like I have really good stuff and it’s forced me to really focus on pitching. I can’t wait to get that ‘hundo back. But until then, I think this will benefit me in the long run.”

Syndergaard was helped by a five-pitch first inning, but he labored a bit in the third after the Angels scored three times in the top of the inning against lefty Taylor Hearn. Syndergaard was seen pacing around the dugout and standing throughout the long top of the inning before taking the mound in the third. He said that’s been part of his routine throughout his career during long innings for the offense.

“I tend to pace back and forth and try to meditate and focus on my breath work and try to slow down the heart rate in between innings,” Syndergaard said. “Sometimes I get too amped up. I love it when the offense comes alive and puts runs on the board, but at the same time, I just want to get out there and put zeros on the board.”

He gave up a leadoff single to Andy Ibáñez, who promptly stole second base and scored on a double from Marcus Semien. Semien then stole third base and scored on an RBI groundout from Corey Seager. Stolen bases have been an issue for Syndergaard throughout his career, as opponents have been successful 142 times in 160 stolen-base attempts (88.8 percent) against him.

“It’s been his whole career, so it’s nothing new,” Maddon said. “It’s not like it’s new information. But we have things we’re going to work on with him.”

Syndergaard departed after having thrown 82 pitches, as the Angels turned to reliever Archie Bradley, who turned in two scoreless innings on 20 pitches. The Halos also got two insurance runs in the eighth on a two-run blast from two-way star Shohei Ohtani. It was the third homer in two games for Ohtani, who hadn’t homered through his first seven games.

“That home run was a big at-bat to get us the extra runs right there,” Maddon said. “He’s been battling and having some good at-bats. He’s been frustrated by some calls, but he’s been battling through it.”

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