PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Noah Syndergaard began last season on the receiving end of a lecture for blowing off a team scrimmage. He ended it as the only Mets pitcher to record a victory in the World Series.
Syndergaard won’t be alone in what is arguably the most hyped rotation in baseball, with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Long Island’s Steven Matz rounding out the group.
But to manager Terry Collins, it was Syndergaard who showed the most growth in just one season.
“We all talk about Matt, we all talk about Jake and how good they are,” Collins said. “This guy’s got a chance to be off the charts. That comes from his maturity coming into the season and how he handled things.”
Before he made his big-league debut, before his purpose pitch that buzzed Alcides Escobar, before spending three weeks living it up in New York after the World Series and enjoying the spoils of a successful season, Syndergaard committed a faux pax that underscored his relative inexperience.
As the Mets scrimmaged ahead of their Grapefruit League opener last March, Syndergaard retreated to the clubhouse to eat lunch when he should have been in the dugout.
This prompted a scolding from captain David Wright. Veteran reliever Bobby Parnell chimed in, taking Syndergaard’s plate of food and dumping it in the trash.
But by October, Syndergaard had earned the respect of his teammates. He drove home that point by starting Game 3 of the World Series with a bit of premeditated mayhem.
“I feel like most people think I’m kind of a quiet guy,” said Syndergaard, who changed that perception with one pitch. “When I’m on the mound, I try to be as intimidating as possible. I try to use that as a weapon.”
After the Royals took the first two games of the World Series, Syndergaard threw a first-pitch fastball over the head of Royals leadoff man Escobar, who had been an offensive catalyst in Games 1 and 2.
After the Mets’ Game 3 win, Syndergaard, 23, acknowledged it was meant as a message. Even as the Royals voiced their displeasure, the righthander remained unapologetic.
The 6-6, 240-pounder challenged the Royals to meet him at the mound if they had any problems. And on Thursday, little more than six weeks before a rematch with the Royals to open the regular season, Syndergaard wasn’t changing his tune.
He intends to make intimidation a part of his repertoire, alongside a curveball that Collins last year dubbed the “hook from hell” and a fastball that often touches triple digits.
“That’s an important weapon that I need to become successful,” said Syndergaard, who went 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA in 24 starts as a rookie.
Now he begins spring training facing a new reality. For the first time, he’s expected to break camp in the starting rotation. He’s wiser for the experience.
“Last year in Vegas, I was able to learn how to fail and be more successful,” he said. “Last year, it was being around the big leagues, around these other big-leaguers, that’s probably what happened, what led to that.”
After the 2015 season, Syndergaard shared his exploits on social media. He watched the Knicks and Rangers play in person and scored studio tickets for “Saturday Night Live.”
Now he has turned his attention toward pushing the Mets back to the World Series.
“He probably made as huge of an adjustment from last spring at this time to the end of the season as any player I’ve ever been around,” Collins said. “At the end of the season, this guy was a bona fide major-league pitcher who commanded respect from his teammates because of the way he worked, the way he goes about things, and commanded respect from the other side of the field.”