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Noah Syndergaard pitches simulated game, rehab assignment looms

Dodgers right-hander Noah Syndergaard pitches a simulated game at Dodger Stadium on July 7, 2023, here facing outfielder Jonny DeLuca.
Dodgers right-hander Noah Syndergaard pitches a simulated game at Dodger Stadium on July 7, 2023, here facing outfielder Jonny DeLuca.
Photo: Eric Stephen | True Blue LA

LOS ANGELES — Dodgers pitcher Noah Syndergaard pitched three simulated innings on the mound at Dodger Stadium before Friday’s game against the Angels, but several steps remain before he might return to that same mound in an actual game.

Syndergaard pitched to Dodgers bullpen catcher Steve Cilladi, and faced Dodgers hitters Jonny DeLuca, Miguel Vargas, and Yonny Hernández. It was a good outing for its purpose. DeLuca hit a ball off the left field wall, but there weren’t many other hard-hit balls. Syndergaard was throwing 93-94 mph in the first inning.

The veteran right-hander has been on the injured list since June 8, officially with a blister on his right index finger but in reality for a total reset, with Syndergaard trying to regain his pre-Tommy-John-surgery form that has proved elusive this season.

Syndergaard has a 7.16 ERA in 12 starts, with 38 strikeouts and nine walks in 55⅓ innings. His strikeout rate (15.5 percent) is nine ticks below his career norm, and his 20 stolen bases allowed are four more than any other major league pitcher despite Syndergaard not pitching for the last month.

Nothing he tried seemed to work.

“It’s hard, because there were times when the velocity ticked up but the quality of contact against wasn’t good,” manager Dave Roberts said Friday. “Other times when the velocity wasn’t there and secondary pitches were considerably better.”

Up next for Syndergaard is a bullpen session at some point during the All-Star break, then he’ll start a minor league rehab assignment mostly likely with Triple-A Oklahoma City, whose schedule resumes next Friday, July 14. How long the rehab assignment lasts is to be determined, but the Dodgers want to see more from Syndergaard than simply building up innings.

“It’s going to be health number one, and then we’ve got to make a call — obviously, Noah’s going to be in the conversation — if the stuff plays at the major league level, to the standard he’s set for himself,” Roberts said.

Syndergaard’s simulated game was originally planned for Thursday at Dodger Stadium, but it was moved back a day in part because the Dodgers were in such dire straits in the bullpen. Daniel Hudson suffered a sprained MCL and Yency Almonte went on paternity leave, and before Thursday’s game Brusdar Graterol’s status was up in the air due to shoulder soreness.

Graterol ended up okay, and even pitched a scoreless eighth inning — he came out of that fine afterward, Roberts said Friday — but Syndergaard was being held back in what Roberts Roberts called “a crazy scenario” that he might be needed to cover bulk innings on Friday or Saturday if Thursday went haywire.

Thankfully for the Dodgers, it was a relatively normal game on the mound.

Despite that potential crazy scenario, the Dodgers don’t have any real plans to use Syndergaard as a reliever. The next few weeks will determine whether they will even use him again at all.

“We see him as a starter,” Roberts said of Syndergaard’s planned role. “I don’t want Noah’s head to go to a different place until that conversation, when and if it needs to happen.”