It would be very easy to say that the slider is why Noah Syndergaard is back on track. Three weeks ago, he started developing the pitch on his own. On Saturday night, before his 15th appearance for the Class A Lansing Lugnuts, he threw it so well in his off-to-the-side bullpen session that pitching coach Vince Horsman allowed him to finally break out the breaking ball between the lines.
Horsman, though, told Syndergaard he could use it only five times. He had to pick his spots.
"I worked on throwing it in the right places -- in 0-2, 1-2 [counts], throwing it in the dirt," said Syndergaard, MLB.com's No. 81 overall prospect. "I think I got one strikeout on the slider."
And the other six strikeouts over five one hit, scoreless innings in Lansing's 2-1 win over visiting Great Lakes?
"The rest were on well-located fastballs," he said.
And there it is, the key. The Mansfield, Texas, native had allowed 18 runs during a four-start stretch that began on May 23. In two outings since, he has yielded only four hits and struck out 13 over nine shutout innings.
"The past two outings compared to my lesser outings has been all about fastball command. I was getting sloppy with my fastball command, leaving it right down the middle, letting hitters hit it," he said. "[Horsman] has made it clear that the key to pitching in the big leagues is fastball command; if you can't locate your fastball, you can't pitch in the big leagues."
And if Syndergaard -- the 38th overall pick in the 2010 Draft -- keeps at it, the bigs won't seem so far away. He retired the first six batters in order before the Loons' Jan Vazquez led off the third with a double.
"I started him off with a fastball for a ball and then I threw a changeup that got a little too flat, too firm for my liking, and he drove it into the gap," Syndergaard said. "I didn't pay much attention to it. I just got back to work, got the next three outs."
The 19-year-old right-hander also plunked Scott Schebler to start the fifth but was otherwise perfect. He fanned his final two batters.
Syndergaard entered his first full season this year with a four-pitch repertoire featuring an in-progress curveball that scouts have deemed to have "plus" potential. With five offerings now in tow, he's compiled a 3.51 ERA and racked up 64 strikeouts over 48 2/3 frames as the Blue Jays brass seek to control -- and build -- his innings count.
"I feel like this has probably been my best outing yet," he said. "Hopefully, many more to come."
Syndergaard did not get the decision as the Loons tied the game at 1-1 in the sixth when Jeffrey Hunt smacked a solo homer off Tyler Ybarra (2-2). The Lugnuts reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning, to Kenny Wilson's two-out RBI triple off starter Ralston Cash (1-2), who was charged with two runs on seven hits over six innings.