In isolation, stolen bases can be pests, annoyances. In clumps, they are an issue. Eight of the 12 steals Syndergaard has allowed this season have come in his last two starts, several of them directly leading to runs.
Overall, opposing basestealers are 11-for-12 against him; tacked onto the 15 he allowed in 16 attempts last season, that's a 92.8 percent success rate.
If ever there was a time to change that trend, it seemed like Sunday against a Giants club that had stolen just seven bags in 24 games. Instead, shortstop Brandon Crawford caught Syndergaard's attention by stealing second base -- with the pitcher batting, no less -- in the third inning. In the fourth, Matt Duffy swiped second base with one out, allowing him to score two batters later on a groundout. And in the sixth, another Duffy stolen base led to a run when Hunter Pence singled him home. Those stolen bases came six days after Syndergaard's last start, in which the Reds swiped five bags against him.
Neither Syndergaard nor manager Terry Collins denies this issue is on the pitcher. Plawecki is 0-for-5 throwing out runners when Syndergaard is on the mound, but 5-for-8 catching anyone else. Injured catcher Travis d'Arnaud has allowed as many steals (seven) with Syndergaard pitching as with any other batterymate.
"I'm just getting too slow and lethargic out there," Syndergaard said. "I'm trying to get back to where I was ... getting in a nice rhythm, getting quick toward home plate. Ultimately, that will fix itself."
Between starts, Syndergaard worked on precisely that with pitching coach Dan Warthen, who urged him to be quicker with his delivery. The right-hander also tapped teammate Jacob deGrom for advice, who instructed Syndergaard to vary how long he holds the ball at the set. Collins wants Syndergaard to develop a slide-step, which Syndergaard said he doesn't feel he needs.
"It's something we can work on, but you don't want to change up his mechanics too much," Plawecki said. "I haven't noticed much frustration about it. I haven't had a conversation with him about it. I'm just trying to put an 'A' throw on it every time, and that's really all I can do. I know he's working on it."
Plawecki went on to describe Syndergaard's issue as "a work in progress," while Syndergaard called it "a slight mechanical issue that I'm still trying to work on." But perhaps it was third baseman David Wright who offered the best take, noting this is only an issue when batters can actually reach base. That has been happening more frequently of late, with Syndergaard's ERA escalating from 0.90 to 2.51 in two starts.
"It might have bothered him a little bit, trying to think he's got to speed up," Collins said. "But for me, you've got to make pitches. If you start taking things away and you don't make pitches, you're going to get beat."