I’m not sure there is a baseball player fans are rooting for harder than Michael Soroka. Maple Maddux was introduced to Braves Country as a baby faced 20-year old back in 2018 when he made five starts and posted a 3.51 ERA. It was instantly apparent how special of a talent he was, even at such a young age. In first full season the following year, Soroka boasted a 2.68 ERA over 29 starts, which was capped off by a marvelous performance in the postseason against the Cardinals.
The Braves had found the ace of their staff, a ground ball maestro who was poised beyond his years. Then, disaster struck. In his third start of the COVID shortened 2020 campaign, Soroka went down in grueling pain while bouncing off the mound in an empty stadium. It took seconds for everyone who was watching from their homes to realize it was a severe injury, which was later revealed as a torn Achilles.
Since that day, it’s felt like nothing can go right for Soroka. After a long rehab, a minor arm injury held him back even longer before he suffered one of the oddest injuries you’ll ever see in professional sports. While walking to the ballpark on a normal afternoon, Soroka felt a pop in his surgically repaired Achilles. Not long after, he found out it had re-torn. Another 15-month recovery was around the corner, and even the optimistic Soroka had to wonder if he’d ever pitch professionally again.
Despite all the odds being stacked against him, optimism has never been an issue for Soroka, and I think that’s played a critical role in the Braves hanging onto him for this long. It’s been nearly three years since he last pitched on a major-league mound, but on Tuesday, he took his biggest step towards returning to Atlanta since that dreary day back in August of 2020.
Soroka made his first start for the Gwinnett Stripers yesterday, completing 3.2 innings and allowing just four hits and one earned run while striking out three. There were some barreled balls, including a home run, but Soroka was able to battle through the adversity as he has his entire career and finish the outing on 61 pitches. Soroka is still ramping up his workload after a late start to Spring Training, but his stuff looks even better than it did before all the injuries. His velocity on all of his pitches is up, leading to many more swings and misses.
Michael Soroka's sinker velo was 1.6 mph higher than 2020 and nearly 1 mph higher than 2019. His slider is 2.1 mph up from 2020 and back to 2019 levels, and is missing a ton of bats. Crazy to think he is only 25 and had a 2.79 ERA in 200 IP between 2018 and 2019. pic.twitter.com/y5kgIvC8p7
— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) April 5, 2023
I prefer to temper my expectations when it comes to what Soroka will provide the Braves in the future. Almost as if it’s nothing, until it is something. However, he’s still only 25-years-old, and the stuff hasn’t missed a beat. If anything, it’s even better than it was before.
Health will always be a concern, but Soroka’s poise and knowledge of how to attack batters will forever be a strong suit. Those are attributes that are engrained into his blood and will never be forgotten. I did wonder if he would lose a touch on his sinker or some bite off his breaking ball after all that has happened, but he’s putting those concerns to rest with each performance. The Braves will not rush him back to the majors; there’s no reason to. However, if he can continue to build confidence over the next few months in Gwinnett, there’s a chance we see the same pitcher we saw when he first arrived in Atlanta five years ago, and maybe even a better version.
Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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