It’s time for the Dodgers to drop the hammer on their Thor experiment.
Noah Syndergaard once again showed that he is far from the commanding, near-invincible pitcher he was before the right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020. His four-seam fastball has no thunder. His substitution won’t do what he wants. He’s made adjustments and tweaked those adjustments, but nothing happened that made his time with the Dodgers feel like anything other than a failed $13 million experiment – and one that should soon end.
The most recent example was his five-inning, five-run, seven-hit, three-home performance Wednesday in the Dodgers’ 10-6 loss to the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium. After giving up six runs in six innings on May 26 at Tampa Bay, he expressed his frustration and vowed to make adjustments. Whatever he did clearly had no positive impact: He caused only one swinging strike out of 96 pitches he threw, and his four-seam fastball was almost indistinguishable from his substitution.
Afterward, he was visibly dejected, his voice barely audible when he spoke to reporters.
“I would give my hypothetical firstborn to be the old me again. I will do everything I can to get back to that,” he said.
That’s a dramatic way to put it. But is it realistic to expect that he can get back to his old self? And how many chances should he get?
Catcher Will Smith said he is confident that Syndergaard will bounce back, “at some point, whether it’s the next start or the start after that or the one after that. He’s too good a pitcher not to come back and do well in this league.” But that seems more like wishful thinking than reality.
Even Smith acknowledged that Syndergaard struggled with his changeup and cutter and had to tinker with his curveball in his quest for positive results.
“He’s looking for everything right now, but he’s bound to find it and settle in,” Smith insisted.
That groove seemed way off against the Nationals. Syndergaard knew. He felt it.
“I am still expected to go out and compete and today I fell behind a lot of hitters. I couldn’t get my off-speed for an attack and my switch is just a huge vulnerability for me right now. It used to be a plus-pitch and now it’s just a slower two-seam for me,” said Syndergaard, who had success with his substitution last season pitching for the Angels and the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I have to keep working on that. I’ve been working on throwing a splitter between starts. I fooled a few, I didn’t have much to lose. I got a batter out with one and the other I just jabbed in the dirt. So I’m still working on that.”
Without the injuries of Julio Urías, Dustin May and Ryan Pepiot, Syndergaard would have been out of the picture weeks ago. As meager as their pitching staff may be, there’s no point for the Dodgers to keep Syndergaard and his 6.54 earned run average in the rotation.
Days off on Thursday and Monday give manager Dave Roberts the chance to skip Syndergaard’s next turn, but Roberts dodged a question about his plans.
“I don’t know. The hope is that he does [start],” said Roberts. “Right now I just don’t want to answer that question.”
Not answering is sometimes an answer.
Roberts was hesitant to pile on Syndergaard, saying only that he didn’t know what to say about Wednesday’s performance.
“It’s much the same as what we’ve seen,” Roberts said. “It is certainly not a lack of preparation or effort. Right now it just doesn’t work.”
In an effort to recapture his speed and composure, Syndergaard has been studying footage of his previous form and performances. He was struck by what he saw.
“Just the speed and command are just the by-product of when I watch video of me and video of me now and in the past, the body moves completely differently,” he said. “I try to be as remote as possible and only focus on results when I’m competing. It doesn’t sync or click in between.”
The longer he struggles, the worse he feels.
“I just feel like I’m the only weakest link in this team,” he said. “I want to go out there and compete and be successful in front of the other guys in this clubhouse, but I just can’t.”
It’s time to end the Thor experiment. If it means digging deeper into their farm system, the Dodgers can at least get a glimpse into their future. If that means making a trade to support their rotation, they should seriously consider it. Thor’s hammer has run out of thunder.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.