Lakeland 2, St. Lucie 1
The thundering sound of the pop in the catcher’s mitt is reminiscent of a prized heavyweight landing a crushing blow to an opponent’s body. The echo can be heard yards away from the epicenter, commanding the attention of everyone in the ballpark. The unmistakable traits of Noah Syndergaard‘s blistering fastball were on display once again Monday — only the fourth time at Tradition Field — and his latest showcase for the St. Lucie Mets offered more promise for the future.
Reaching a top speed of 96 mph, the prized prospect mixed his fastball with a devastating changeup for five strikeouts over five innings but his winless streak extended to four games during a 2-1 loss to visiting Lakeland. Syndergaard, hailed as the No. 3 prospect in the rapidly improving farm system by MMN, allowed six hits — five of them singles — and two runs as his record dropped to 2-3 on the year. The start of the game was delayed nearly an hour as rain continues to wreck havoc on the Mets’ schedule.
For the ninth time in his 11 starts this season, Syndergaard limited an opponent to fewer than three runs but watched his ERA grow slightly to 2.81, still the best mark among the St. Lucie starters (minimum six starts). Despite laboring a bit with 86 pitches, he peppered the strike zone for 58 strikes and jumped ahead of the overmatched Flying Tigers with first-pitch strikes to 11 of the 21 batters he faced.
Syndergaard did not walk a batter — the ninth straight game he held his walk total to two batters or less — and retired the side in order in two separate innings as he continues to state his case for a promotion to Double-A for the first time in his burgeoning career. The right-hander retired the first five batters on three groundouts and a pair of strikeouts, and carried a shutout into the fifth inning before running into trouble.
The Texas native permitted a single to Tyler Hanover to open the fifth — the only hit to lead off an inning he surrendered in the game — before collecting two quick outs. A close call on an infield single put runners at first and second before Harold Castro delivered a bloop double just inside the left-field line that plated two runs, the first time Syndergaard has allowed multiple runs at home since April 18 against Fort Myers.
However, the 20-year-old maintained his composure and stranded Castro on second base after retiring the next batter on a flyout to center. He was then replaced by Chasen Bradford in the sixth inning, marking the third consecutive start he failed to complete at least six innings, though his previous outing last Tuesday was suspended by rain after 2.1 innings.
Once again, the St. Lucie offense didn’t offer much support for the ace of the staff and was held scoreless until outfielder Travis Taijeron ripped his ninth home run of the season in the bottom of the ninth. During his four-game winless streak, Syndergaard has received just seven runs from the offense. But more importantly, his peripherals have been outstanding in that stretch, especially his 21-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 19.2 innings.
Taijeron, who was named the Florida State League Player of the Week prior to the contest, continued his torrid run and pushed his hitting streak to eight games, five of which have been multi-hit performances. He now has five home runs in as many games and pulled within two homers of the team lead held by Dustin Lawley (11). The right fielder went 3-for-4 and was caught stealing for the first time this season.
The Mets continue the series Tuesday as Alex Panteliodis (2-1, 2.03) climbs onto the mound to face Hudson Randall (0-5, 6.49). Panteliodis has been charged with just one earned run in his past two starts while notching a win in each outing.
T.J. Rivera: 2-for-4, 1 2B
Robbie Shields: 1-for-3, 1 2B
Travis Taijeron: 3-for-4, 1 HR, 1 RBI
Noah Syndergaard: 5 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 2 ER, 5 K
Chasen Bradford: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 ER, 2 K
Randy Fontanez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 ER, 5 K