PORT ST. LUCIE Its not Noah Syndergaards favorite memory. Three springs ago, the young prospect was eating lunch alone in the clubhouse after his daily workout while the rest of the major league camp was outside participating in an intrasquad scrimmage. David Wright walked in and scolded the rookie, told him to get outside, watch and learn.
When Syndergaard didnt move fast enough, veteran reliever Bobby Parnell moved in and dumped his lunch in the garbage.
I dont look back at that as me making a mistake, Syndergaard said. I dont look back at any experience as a mistake or bad if I learned from it.
And now, the Mets have to hope that Syndergaard and the rest of their rotation have learned the lessons they needed to and are ready to lead this team. Parnell is no longer around and Wright has not played since May 2016. The Mets have brought in veterans like Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes and Jason Vargas, but this teams destiny will be determined by the success of Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and potentially Zack Wheeler.
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I didnt do that to embarrass Noah, I did it to teach him, like an older brother would do, Wright said. And I think he knows that now and I hope he is ready and feels comfortable doing that with another young guy. I wanted him to learn because I knew he would be a leader on this team.
This group of former top pitching prospects who have each had tastes of success in the big leagues, has to grow up and be ready to lead this team back from the disappointment of 2017, and become the rotation many believed it could be.
The amount of very good arms and quality stuff we have in this Mets organization, I promise you nobody else has that, Mickey Callaway said. I have been around some pretty good arms and this is the best group of arms and stuff that Ive ever seen, from top to bottom. Its really amazing. Dave Eiland and I are coming in and are like this is unbelievable.
The Mets brought in Callaway to replace Terry Collins as manager and Eiland to replace Dan Warthen as pitching coach to try to take this group of pitchers and this team to the next level. After almost reaching the pinnacle in 2015, losing to the Royals in the World Series, they lost in the National League Wild Card in 2016 and 2017 was a 70-win disaster punctuated by devastating injury after devastating injury.
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Cespedes missed 81 games with leg injuries, Harvey missed two months with shoulder weakness, Matz missed the first two months and the last month-plus with elbow pain and Michael Conforto missed the final month after gruesome shoulder injury.
The real gut punch to the Mets 2017 hopes, however, was Syndergaard going down at the end of April. The then-24-year-old had spent the previous winter reshaping his body, trying to add velocity to his 100-mile an hour fastball and didnt listen to the people cautioning against that. He had just been pushed back with what the team said was biceps tendinitis, but he declined to have a team doctor recommended MRI. In his very next start, Syndergaard went out and tore his right lat muscle in the second inning.
He was the last of the so-called Five Aces to suffer a major injury and it was deflating for the Mets in 2017. The number of injuries the Mets power pitchers suffered in the past three years has been devastating.
But Callaway, who was the pitching coach in Cleveland before taking his first managing job, and Eiland were brought in not only to help keep them healthy; they were brought in to help them get back on track and restore their swagger.
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The new manager says he saw that confidence early on in camp.
They look to the left and they look to their right and they know they can contend, Callaway said of his team and rotation. I have spent time with our players. It is very evident that we are prepared in every way to go out there and do something special. If we do not do things its going to be on me.
A rookie manager, Callaways success in his first year will depend largely on if Syndergaard and the rest of that rotation has learned from their past experiences.
If this group of pitchers is putting in the work to stay healthy and ready to step up and into the role of leading this team back from a disastrous 70-win, 2017 season, then this can be a special team.