January 29, 2023

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Thor 'on a mission' in outstanding start vs. Rangers

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Right-hander rebounds from shortest outing of career with eight strong innings
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ANAHEIM — After turning in the shortest start of his seven-year career last week in Texas, Angels right-hander Noah Syndergaard made sure it wouldn’t happen again when facing the Rangers for a second straight start on Tuesday night.

Syndergaard bounced back in a big way, throwing eight impressive innings to help lead the Angels to a 5-3 win at Angel Stadium. It marked Syndergaard’s longest outing since also going eight innings against the Nationals on May 14, 2019, and was yet another sign that Syndergaard is making a strong recovery from the Tommy John surgery that kept him out of action in 2020 and limited him to two outings with the Mets last year. He gave up one run on four hits with five strikeouts to improve to 4-2 with a 3.08 ERA in seven starts this season.

“I kind of had a chip on my shoulder,” Syndergaard said. “I pitched with some attitude and tempo and just tried to get the guys involved as much as possible. The defense was stellar tonight.”

Syndergaard recorded just two outs in his previous outing, but surpassed that quickly this time with an eight-pitch 1-2-3 first inning. He was efficient with his pitches throughout the night and filled up the strike zone, as 73 of his 93 pitches went for strikes. His strike rate of 78.5 percent was the highest of his career, as he threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 27 batters he faced and never reached a three-ball count.

“He wanted to prove a point after his last start against these guys,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I thought he was outstanding. He was very aggressive and assertive. I think he was just on a mission tonight.”

Syndergaard said he wasn’t aware that he never reached a three-ball count until after the game and said he didn’t think he’d ever done that in any of his previous 127 career outings.

“It’s pretty cool and I didn’t realize it until I came out,” Syndergaard said. “That’s the secret right there. I was just in attack mode the whole game.”

The Texas native had a perfect game going until Adolis García broke it up with a bloop single to right field with one out in the fifth. Jonah Heim followed with a single to right, but Syndergaard escaped further trouble by getting Nathaniel Lowe to ground out before striking out Andy Ibáñez to end the inning.

Syndergaard was helped by several strong defensive plays, including Brandon Marsh robbing Mitch Garver of a potential home run with a leaping catch up against the left-field fence to end the fourth. Syndergaard also helped start an impressive 1-4-3 double play in the seventh that saw second baseman Luis Rengifo pick Syndergaard’s throw that bounced into second before making a strong throw to first to complete the double play.

“I kind of surprised myself a little bit,” Syndergaard said. “I almost butchered it with the throw but Rengifo really saved me there and was able to make a sick turn to complete the double play.”

Marsh called his home run saving catch the best of his young career and was just happy to help out Syndergaard.

“He was unbelievable,” said Marsh, who was 3-for-4 at the plate and made a sliding catch in the ninth. “It was phenomenal. He was electric out there. The tempo was up and he threw strikes. It was super fun playing behind him.”

Syndergaard, though, lost his chance for a shutout when he gave up a leadoff homer to Heim in the seventh. It came on a 2-1 fastball in one of the rare instances in which Syndergaard was behind in the count. But Syndergaard recovered by retiring the final three batters he faced via groundouts to finish his outing on a high note.

But with the shutout bid gone, Maddon said it was an easy decision to go to reliever Aaron Loup for the ninth. The Angels are being cautious with Syndergaard, who also said he agreed with the decision after having thrown just 42 pitches in his last start. Loup ended up allowing two runs, but closer Raisel Iglesias recorded the final out to preserve the win and get his 11th save.

“[Syndergaard] was at 93 [pitches], so no, I didn’t think about it, but if it was a shutout, I probably would have,” Maddon said. “It was the perfect spot for Loup and I didn’t want to extend [Syndergaard] any further unless there was something on the line.”

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