For the better part of 2017, all Noah Syndergaard could do was sit and watch. Sidelined by a torn lat muscle suffered in a start in late April, the Mets’ imposing righty ended up missing all but the last week of the season, as his team slumped to 92 losses and a fourth-place finish in the NL East without him. But after an offseason of rehab and training, Syndergaard and his 100-mph fastball are once again lighting up Queens, as he hopes to lead New York back to postseason contention. Off to a good start after a strong Opening Day performance against the Cardinals in which he struck out 10 hitters in six innings, Syndergaard sat down with SI to talk about getting back on the mound, new Mets manager Mickey Callaway, what TV show he most wants to guest star on, and his prediction for the final season of Game of Thrones (spoiler: nobody gets out alive).
How would you grade your Opening Day performance?
I would give myself a B-. I’m not going to make excuses or anything, but the change in environment might have been a factor in my ability to go out there and feel fluid, as opposed to the warm climate in Florida. But it was a lot of fun to watch our offense go out and exploit their weaknesses. The overall tone and atmosphere in the clubhouse and on the bench is night and day from last year. We’re having a lot of fun. I know it’s only two games into the season, but being out there and present in the dugout and watching our offense do what they do and watching Jake [deGrom], what he did [Saturday], and our bullpen finish up the games, it’s a lot of fun to be a part of. We’re going to continue that for 160 more games and carry that into the playoffs and win the World Series.
I was about to ask, you mentioned the clubhouse. New manager this year, some new faces. Last year didn’t seem like the most fun for yourself or for the team as a whole. What’s that change been like, to have Mickey Callaway here and some new guys around?
It starts with our manager, having him around and the atmosphere he brings, the demeanor and poise he has. He comes in every day with a lot of confidence, and it trickles down to us. What’s great with Mickey is he lets [pitching coach] Dave [Eiland] work with the pitchers even though he [Mickey] has a pitching background. From my understanding, being a manager, you don’t want to be a one-facet kind of guy. He’s helping everyone and everywhere you can think of. He’s always trying to get his hands in and help out. Working with Dave is awesome. From the moment I first met him, you can tell that guy means business. He’s got that old-school mentality to establish the inside part of the plate. He even talks about when he was with the Royals in 2015, he talks about that first pitch I threw in Game 3 [of the World Series against Alcides Escobar], and it fires him up. That’s definitely something we want to do is go out there and intimidate guys and make people uncomfortable.
And the amount of energy that guys like [first base coach] Ruben [Amaro Jr.] bring to the table is a lot of fun. Then you’ve got guys like the veterans we’ve signed like [reliever Anthony] Swarzak, great veteran to add to the ones we have in the bullpen, like Jerry [Blevins] and [Jeurys] Familia and [A.J.] Ramos. Guys like Adrian Gonzalez, who’s been around for a long time and has got a lot of knowledge, he’s great to be around, and Todd Frazier, that guy’s hilarious, great clubhouse presence who keeps things light and loose. He’s definitely the kind of guy you want in your foxhole. When you’re in the weight room [with him] and there’s some good music being played, you can guarantee there’s going to be a dance competition.
I want to go back to Mickey. He’s got that reputation of being a good pitching coach, the Indians had some great performances while he was there. Is there anything he’s specifically helped you with?
It’s more a general leadership role he’s bringing to the table. He’s very calm in everything he addresses. He’s a guy you want to go out there and give your all for because he’s going out there and giving his all. We’re all pulling on the same rope.
You had the long layoff last year because of the injury. Was there any fear or anxiety in gripping and ripping for the first time this spring and getting back up to 100 [mph] for the first time?
No, I felt like I put my body in a pretty good situation this offseason in terms of mobility and doing the right things for gaining strength and explosiveness. I put myself in the driver’s seat for success and to be able to stay healthy, because that’s the ultimate goal, to be able to make 30 starts this year.
Is there ever a fear that, throwing as hard as you do, that it could possibly increase your risk for injury?
No, because my 100 is someone else’s 100 if they throw 90 and lefthanded. If someone maxes out at 92, that’s their 100%. My 100% just happens to be 101-102 [mph], but that doesn’t mean I’m exerting any more force.
Anything else you worked on this offseason?
I did a lot of—not that my sprint form or my running has gotten any better or quicker, but I’ve become more aware of what my body’s doing and how it’s supposed to move as opposed to how I was feeling the previous year. Honestly, I’m actually very surprised that I’ve made it to the big leagues without injury and being able to go out there and perform, because the knowledge I’ve learned from my debut in 2015 to where I am now is something I wish I had in 2010 when I got drafted in terms of taking care of my body and how to properly throw a baseball.
Is there anything pitching-wise you’re working on, in terms of repertoire or sequencing?
I’ve been throwing my curveball more, just because everything else I throw is pretty hard. Fastball’s hard, slider and changeup are right around where everyone else is throwing their fastball, so I try to add something with a little more speed difference to get hitters off everything else that’s hard. I can throw a really good one for a strike three or a get-me-over, and they’re typically not going to swing at it because everyone’s geared up for something really hard.
A lot of guys consider Opening Day to be one of their favorite moments in their season or career because of all the pomp and pageantry and fun it can be. Do you have a favorite moment of your career so far?
Game 3 of the World Series was pretty cool. Hitting two home runs in Dodger Stadium and throwing eight innings was awesome, I was on Cloud Nine that day. I think that’s about it.
Going back to the offseason, last offseason, you filmed your Game of Thrones cameo, right?
Did you have any offseason TV cameos coming this year?
Nothing lined up, but The Rock gave me some love on Twitter, so maybe I can run into him, I don’t know.
When you posted that GIF, were you expecting a response?
No, because it wasn’t directed toward him, but then he responded with something epic because he knew about the whole feud with Mr. Met. That was pretty cool.
Are you a wrestling fan?
I love his trash-talking videos.
Are you going to try to drop the People’s Elbow on Mr. Met?
I’m going to give Mr. Met a little bit of a break for right now.
Where’s that rivalry or feud going? I know it’s been heated the last couple years.
That’s a good question. I don’t know if it’ll ever end. Probably not, because my fear of mascots will probably never go away.
If you could fight one mascot who isn’t Mr. Met, who would it be?
The Phillie Phanatic. He’s just always trying to start something when we go to Philadelphia, and I just keep stealing his four-wheeler.
Has he gotten you back for that yet?
No, not yet. He always leaves it running, and he never pays attention to it. Next time I’m just not going to give it back to him.
What’s your favorite thing to do in New York on an off-day?
If the weather’s nice, I like to go rent a bike and ride through Central Park. I think that’s amazing, I don’t even feel like I’m in New York. Otherwise, go to a comedy show, get some good food.
Do you have a favorite stand-up working right now?
No, but I like to go to the Comedy Cellar a lot.
If you had a comedy Mount Rushmore, who would be on it?
Dave Chappelle, Robin Williams, Bill Burr, and Chris Rock.
What’s your favorite song right now?
It’s been my favorite for a while. It’s epic, it makes you want to get up and protest something. It’s called “You’re the Voice,” by John Farnham.
Best movie you’ve seen in the last six months?
Shot Caller. It’s got Jaime Lannister [Nikolaj Coster-Waldau] in it.
If you have one non-Game of Thrones TV show you could get a cameo role in, what would it be?
Billions. It’s awesome, and it takes place in New York, too. They went, in Season 1, to this underground ancient bathhouse called Aire, and I was like, “I’ve been there before.”
Who’s the hitter you least like to face?
Daniel Murphy, you’ve always got to be on your A-game there. Bryce Harper, of course. Manny Machado, too.
What’s your rivalry like with Harper?
We want the same thing in terms of where we want baseball to go. We’re always going to be somewhat rivals because we’re on opposing teams in the same division.
Which pitcher has the one pitch you’d most like to add to your arsenal?
Can I say nobody? I like all my stuff more than anyone else’s. I guess Clayton Kershaw’s curveball.
I was hoping you’d say Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball. Being able to throw 100 and a knuckleball…
Or an eephus. Or throw [Aroldis] Chapman’s 100 lefthanded.
One last thing. I want your prediction for how Game of Thrones is going to end.
And do you think Thor makes it alive out of Avengers: Infinity War?
I think so. There are some lesser guys who’ll die before he does.