There’s the muscular 6-foot-6, 242-pound frame, the long blond hair and the nickname that evokes images of a hammer-wielding god who can create thunder and lightning: Thor. New Angels pitcher Noah Syndergaard strikes an imposing figure, and not just on the mound.
“He can’t help but realize that when people talk to him, they’re gonna be intimidated by him,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “And he’s very taken aback by that, because he’s really a sweet guy. He can’t help how he looks.
“When you start talking to him, he’s really thoughtful, really bright, really well-read, really interesting. But you’ve got to get in there, because I think a lot of people are afraid to get in there just based on appearance.”
The Angels are betting $21 million that Syndergaard, limited by Tommy John surgery to two innings in the last two seasons, will strike a similar fear into opposing batters like he did from 2015 to 2018 with the New York Mets, when he was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
Syndergaard, 29, will take the first major step in that process when he makes his highly anticipated Angels debut against Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander, who is also returning from Tommy John surgery, on Saturday night in Angel Stadium.
“Oh, everything,” Angels catcher Max Stassi said, when asked what a healthy Syndergaard could mean to the team. “You’re talking about a front-of-the rotation guy, a guy that’s proven in this game. He’s just an amazing talent, a huge addition in the clubhouse and obviously on the field, just an all-around pro.”
Syndergaard will take the mound looking to stop a season-opening, two-game losing streak.
Houston hit six homers, including two by Kyle Tucker, in the Astros’ 13-6 victory Friday night. Jose Altuve, Aledmys Diaz, Alex Bregman and Jeremy Peña hit solo homers and the Astros broke open the game with an eight-run, eight-hit seventh inning.
Altuve (first inning) and Diaz (fourth) homered off Angels starter Reid Detmers, Bregman homered off reliever Oliver Ortega for a 4-2 lead in the sixth, and Peña greeted Mike Mayers with his first career homer in the seventh for a 5-2 lead.
Houston tacked on seven more runs in the seventh on RBI doubles by Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez and RBI singles by Bregman and Diaz off reliever Jimmy Herget and Tucker’s three-run homer off Jaime Barria.
The Angels scored twice in the first inning when Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon singled, Jared Walsh fisted a run-scoring single to shallow left and Rendon scored on a passed ball.
Syndergaard looked sharp in his final exhibition start Sunday, giving up one run and two hits, striking out seven and walking one in five innings against the Dodgers, mixing a fastball that averaged 94.8 mph and topped out at 97.8 mph with an 88-mph changeup, a 77-mph curve and an 85-mph slider.
“When he’s healthy, he’s up there with anybody,” Angels shortstop David Fletcher said. “That’s obviously a big question for him, but I think he’s in a good place right now.”
Though he hasn’t regained the triple-digit fastball he possessed during his peak Mets years, Syndergaard said he believes his velocity will trend up as he gets more comfortable in his delivery and the regular-season adrenaline starts flowing.
“He’s a big man with long levers, and he’s a strike-thrower,” Maddon said. “He’s a pitcher, he’s not out there just throwing. He’s not primal at all. I think that sustains him, and I think that’s why it could be good for years to come, because he’s not just living and dying on velocity.”
The Angels don’t have a plan to limit Syndergaard’s workload because the built-in guardrails of their six-man rotation will reduce his starts and innings and give him extra rest between games.
“I feel like the six-man [rotation] is gonna be huge,” Syndergaard said. “But I also take great pride in taking care of my body and treating it like an elite athlete should. So, I mean, I see no reason why we can’t push the limits.”
Syndergaard has made a seamless transition to a new coast, new league and new team, in part because of his budding relationship with his new manager.
“I’m able to go into his office and have a long conversation and just shoot the s—, just a couple guys being dudes,” said Syndergaard, who went 37-22 with a 2.93 ERA in 87 games from 2015 to 2018. “It’s a very professional relationship. I really value and respect that.”