PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Early Thursday morning, manager Terry Collins called his entire starting staff into his Tradition Field office to affirm what they already knew. Coming off a breakout, Cy Young-caliber season, Noah Syndergaard will be the Mets' Opening Day starter on April 3 against the Braves.
"It's just a huge honor," Syndergaard said later in the afternoon. "It's something I've been working for ever since I was with the Mets, to be the Opening Day starter at one point. I'm extremely thrilled that Terry instills that kind of confidence in me. I'm going to go out there and get the job done."
With Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz all returning from surgeries, and Bartolo Colon now down in Atlanta, Syndergaard was the Mets' obvious choice to take the ball at Citi Field. That is why Collins, who typically waits until the final weeks of March to name his Opening Day starter, did so on the third official day of camp.
"It was the easiest [decision] I've made in a while," Collins said.
Statistically, it was not much of a choice at all. The Mets' leader in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and a host of other categories last season, Syndergaard finished eighth in National League Cy Young balloting, even receiving a pair of MVP votes. He then spent all offseason working out and streamlining his diet, adding 15-17 pounds of muscle in an effort to eclipse the 183 2/3 innings he compiled last year -- and, if he has his way, to add velocity to the 101-mph fastballs and 95-mph sliders he threw.
The Mets hope the result is a pitcher who can challenge Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and the NL's other top pitchers for the mantle of baseball's best.
Syndergaard will start against a Braves team likely to counter with right-hander Julio Teheran. Facing Atlanta just once last season, Syndergaard allowed five runs over 3 2/3 innings in one of his worst starts of the year. But his April 3 assignment promises to provide a different atmosphere, with tens of thousands of Mets fans surrounding him at Citi Field.
"I can't imagine how loud that crowd's going to be," Syndergaard said. "Sometimes when I go out there, I just have tunnel vision. I kind of tune everything out. But you really can feel the energy with the Mets faithful. I'm excited to rise to the calling."
When Harvey, deGrom and the Mets' other starting pitchers found out about Syndergaard's assignment, Collins said, there was no argument -- "they knew" that he "deserved to be that guy." Even at age 24, the youngest of the Mets' top four starters, Syndergaard has emerged as a staff leader.
"Almost every day I kind of take a glance back at where I was," said Syndergaard, who is entering just his second full big league season. "It's just an awesome feeling and it's just only begun. I'm extremely thrilled for where I'm at right now, but I'm never going to be satisfied, and will continue to get better each and every day."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.