Noah Syndergaard is effective in victorious Angels debut as he honors Nick Adenhart
Noah Syndergaard stepped onto the Angel Stadium field in bare feet Saturday afternoon, strolling through the outfield grass and around the dirt of a bullpen mound in an effort to soak up negative ions, which are supposed to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, resulting in higher alertness and more mental energy.
It’s part of a pregame ritual that Syndergaard incorporated in his winter workouts with fellow Angels pitcher Michael Lorenzen, their daily regimen including low-impact conditioning drills and jogging on the sand in Newport Beach.
“It just feels good under your feet,” Lorenzen said. “We’re pretty earthy. We’re kind of hippies a little bit, I guess. Yeah, peace and love, brother.”
A few more efforts like Saturday night, when Syndergaard blanked Houston on two hits over 5 1/3 innings of a 2-0 victory over the Astros, and Angels pitchers may start taking the field for stretch in tie-dyed shirts and Birkenstocks.
It’s not only sufficient but necessary now for the Angels to play October baseball now that Mike Trout is in his prime.
Syndergaard, who signed a one-year, $21-million deal in November and was limited by Tommy John surgery to two innings in the last two seasons, was not dominant in his Angels debut, but he was effective and efficient, throwing strikes on 49 of his 76 pitches.
Mixing a fastball that averaged 94.5 mph with an 88.8-mph changeup and 83.8-mph slider, Syndergaard struck out only one, walked two and recorded 11 ground-ball outs to outduel Astros right-hander Justin Verlander, who also missed most of the last two seasons because of Tommy John surgery.
“He was outstanding,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said of Syndergaard. “He’s a strike-thrower. His changeup is outstanding, he has the slider, and he’s willing to pitch inside, which you don’t see a whole lot of in today’s game.
“He’s in total command of everything he’s doing up there. He’s got a very good mound presence and doesn’t seem to ever get hurried.”
Verlander gave up one run and three hits in five innings, striking out seven and walking three. Jared Walsh (second inning) and Mike Trout (eighth) hit solo home runs, and relievers Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Raisel Iglesias combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
Syndergaard took the mound wearing No. 34, the first time that number has been worn by an Angels player since Nick Adenhart, who was a promising 22-year-old pitcher when he was killed by a drunk driver 13 years ago Saturday.
The 6-foot-6, 242-pound right-hander breezed through the first, needing only eight pitches to retire the side in order.
He gave up a two-hit single and a walk in the second before getting Jason Castro to ground out to first. He got Jose Altuve to ground into a double play after Chas McCormick’s leadoff single in the third.
Syndergaard retired six of seven batters in the fourth and fifth and was pulled in favor of left-hander Loup after a one-out walk in the sixth.
Major League Baseball is putting balls into humidors to “standardize” them, but does it really work? Many pitchers have doubts about the procedure.
“The whole day I just kind of had goosebumps, because I was taking the mound on the 13-year anniversary of Adenhart being tragically taken away from us, so I feel like I had angels by my side tonight,” Syndergaard said. “That was really special to me.
“As athletes, our number is just kind of a number to every person, but to us, it’s part of our identity. Growing up, 34 was my number because I was a huge fan of Nolan Ryan. But now it kind of means something a little bit different to me. So I’m trying to use that to lift up Nick’s name and spread awareness.”
The Angels opened the season with two losses, their bullpen, which was expected to be vastly improved, getting torched for 13 runs and 15 hits, six of them homers, in 91/3 innings, and many fans taking to social media to trash them.
“I don’t follow Twitter, and that’s exactly why,” Walsh said before the game. “I think we live in a very quick response society, so we’re gonna be playing every day for the next six or seven months. We’re in it for the long haul.”
Walsh was in it for the long ball Saturday night. He crushed a first-pitch, 93-mph fastball from Verlander for a homer to right-center field in the second. So was Trout, who drove a 99-mph fastball from reliever Ryne Stanek 445 feet over the left-center field wall for a 2-0 lead in the eighth.
“Woof,” Maddon said of Trout’s blast. “I mean, from field level, that was pretty magnificent. It was loud. It was high. It was far. It was needed. Maybe that’ll get him rolling.”
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