PORT ST. LUCIE — The laborious comeback from Tommy John surgery is often measured in small milestones, but Noah Syndergaard hit one of the bigger ones Saturday — even if it came in a small dose.
The Mets right-hander threw three sliders for the first time in his bullpen session Saturday, exactly 11 months since he underwent surgery, marking the latest step forward for Syndergaard in his attempt to be back on the mound at Citi Field this summer.
It still remains to be seen when or if Syndergaard will face live hitters this spring — pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said that date has not yet been set — but his arduous rehab process continues to move along.
“He started incorporating the breaking pitches just now,” manager Luis Rojas said Sunday. “I’m sure [Saturday] was one of the goals, a big one. He looks great physically. He looks on track to be back with us when we set it. It’s exciting to see him, but I know we’ve got to wait for him to go through the process and get to us when that time comes by God.”
Syndergaard had thrown another bullpen on Wednesday, but at that point was limited to fastballs, changeups and sinkers.
Hefner, who underwent Tommy John surgery twice during his own pitching career with the Mets, has been an important voice for Syndergaard to lean on for advice during the recovery process — one that Hefner didn’t necessarily have during his own rehab journey, he said Sunday.
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“Living that, living the protocol, understanding the milestones that you need to hit, in a specific order — for me, I didn’t do a good job of controlling my intensity and my intent,” said Hefner, who went through his rehab at the same time as Matt Harvey.
“[Syndergaard is] a total pro. He’s been locked in the whole time, listening, adjusting. He’s been doing everything he’s needed to do from a performance standpoint, from a mechanics standpoint, to a mental standpoint. … I’m proud of him for sticking to that because it can be tough. Sometimes when you feel good, you want to do too much, and when you don’t feel good, you want to do less. But trying to be as consistent and constant as possible will get a better outcome at the end of this thing.”