March 24, 2017

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) The Houston Astros demonstrated Friday what the rest of the league knows and the Mets realize themselves, but haven't been able to fix.

Teams can run successfully on the battery of opening-day pitcher Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d'Arnaud - almost seemingly at will.

The Astros were a perfect 4 for 4 in stolen bases at First Data Field in the right-hander's fourth start of the spring: three by Derek Fisher, the other by fellow outfielder Jake Marisnick.

Syndergaard said he felt his delivery times to home plate were good, in the 1.35-second range, while Collins praised him for a couple of sub 1.3s.

''I felt good out there. I felt like my times were where they needed to be,'' said Syndergaard after his 73-pitch effort. ''Sometimes I'm mixing in a slide step as well.

''I feel really confident in controlling the runners, to control the runners and still deliver a quality pitch to home plate.''

The numbers say otherwise.

Last season, Syndergaard won most of the head-to-head battles at the plate as the tall right-hander held hitters to a .243 batting average. However, the advantage swung to the other side somewhat when baserunners started taking off during Syndergaard's delivery.

Base stealers were successful in 48 of 57 attempted thefts against Syndergaard in 2016. In his rookie season the year before, he watched 16 runners attempt to swipe the next base and only get nabbed once.

That's 63 of 73, an 86 percent success rate.

Collins said d'Arnaud's arm strength and velocity are where they need to be. However, his delivery needs to quicken to help slow down the running game.

''I like his arm stroke better than last year. I think he's made huge improvements in it. We've just got to get him to speed it up,'' Collins said of d'Arnaud, who hasn't thrown out a baserunner this spring.

D'Arnaud said he realizes a catcher like Yadier Molina or Buster Posey who can throw out baserunners is a ''game changer'' and that his throwing is better now than last year.

''My transfers are getting more consistent and I'm more consistent with my throwing accuracy. When I get a good grip and good transfer, my feet are right underneath me,'' said d'Arnaud, who isn't discouraged by poor results so far.

Collins said backup catcher Rene Rivera, who hasn't had many at-bats this spring while playing for Puerto Rico in the WBC, could be in the lineup on April 3 against Atlanta at Citi Field because of his history with Syndergaard.

''We'll look at all the factors before we write the opening-day lineup. Last year, Noah threw the ball very well to Rene, so there's a good chance and a possibility that Rene will catch in that game,'' Collins said.

Collins added that d'Arnaud's bat could be the deciding factor. ''If he's hitting homers and driving in runs, you'll forget all about (the throwing). If he gets it going offensively, he's going to play in a lot of games.''

NOTES: Syndergaard will pitch in a minor league game instead of facing Atlanta next Wednesday, five days before the Mets open the season against the Braves. . RHP Jacob deGrom will pitch in a minor league game at home on Saturday while RHP Rafael Montero will make the start against Atlanta in Lake Buena Vista. . The Ryder Cup made a visit to First Data Field during morning workouts. Collins and multiple Mets had photos taken with the prestigious golf trophy. . The Mets mustered just five hits, two by Jose Reyes, in a 2-0 loss to Houston, marking the club's second straight shutout defeat.

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