Mike Soroka wasn’t on the top of his game in Toronto, especially early. He allowed two runs on four hits in his first professional inning on Canadian soil to put the Braves bats, that have been ice cold of late, behind the eight-ball. But like Soroka always does, he buckled down and strung together five scoreless innings in an efficient manner, keeping his Cy Young hopes alive. The 22-year-old still has yet to surrender more than four earned runs in an outing, which he’s only done twice. And yesterday’s performance gave him his 17th quality start in 24 tries. By now, the greatness of Mike Soroka is well-known, which is why the Braves have decided to take it super-cautiously with him.
Following his fifth-straight scoreless frame, Brian Snitker made the frustrating decision of pulling Soroka after only 79 pitches in a one-run game. Fittingly, Sean Newcomb would give up a home run and two walks to the first three batters he faced, and Braves fans were rightfully questioning Snit’s decision. This has become commonplace every time Soroka starts, and it can no longer be taken as a coincidence. Despite the Braves’ insistence that Soroka and Fried are not on any type of innings limit, they are clearly restricting them as the season winds down.
The Cy Young candidate was shut down for the season in June of last year with a shoulder injury. He came back healthy for spring training, but a weight lifting accident led to him starting the year on the IL. Fortunately, the two issues were not correlated, but anytime your top pitching prospect has arm issues precautions must be taken. That’s modern-day baseball, and while the Braves aren’t opting to skip his starts, they are making sure they do not overuse him until it is absolutely necessary.
Alex Anthopoulos commented on the use of innings limits with his bright young pitchers earlier this month, stressing the Braves are not concerned with Soroka and Fried’s workload.
“As a young GM, I was pretty militant with innings and things like that, and it didn’t work,” Gabe Burns of the AJC reports Anthopoulos said a few weeks ago. “Even when I was in L.A, obviously they’re as good an organization as you can find, we were very cautious with Julio Urias, and he still got hurt. You can go through a lot of examples.”
However, that doesn’t mean the Braves aren’t monitoring both Soroka and Fried; they’ve been doing that all season and have attempted to limit them as much as possible when they see fit.
“We’re going to put their careers first. If we think the appropriate thing is to scale down or shut down, we’ll do it. But as we sit here today, we haven’t made arrangements to do that. We’re just going to play it by ear,” Anthopoulos continued in Burns’ report.
This coincides with what Alex Anthopoulos talked about back in June with 92.9 The Game. When speaking on a potential innings limit, he said, “We’re well aware, we’re mindful of it, we’re trying to save bullets anyplace that we can, whether it’s taking them out of games early if we have a nice lead, maybe we skip a start down the road, skip bullpens in between, give them extra days between rest, we’ll certainly watch that.”
To this point, the Braves have not decided to have Fried or Soroka skip a start, but they’ve been extremely trigger happy when it comes to pulling them later in the game, especially with Soroka. The Canadian sinkerballer has only reached the 100-pitch threshold five times all season and has only eclipsed 105 pitches once – in his second start of the season against the Cincinnati Reds where he threw the ball 109 times in 5.2 innings. Perhaps Anthopoulos had to remind Snitker after that one, “take it easy,” because he hasn’t thrown more than 102 pitches since.
The pitch counts have reduced even more since the All-Star break. He’s thrown less than 90 pitches in five of his nine starts, under 85 in four of them, and has only reached the 100-pitch mark once when he threw 101 five nights ago against the Marlins. Brian Snitker was asked following Soroka’s early exit yesterday if there were any issues; he assured Braves Country nothing is wrong – they just want to make sure he’s healthy for the long haul, which extends much further than this season.
With a 5.5 game lead in the division, Atlanta is hoping to pull away and make the NL East race more of a celebratory trot in September. That would allow both of their star pitchers to skip a start, or at the very least, receive some extra rest between games. As much as a nuisance as it has been all season, it is the correct call. A severe injury to Soroka would not only ruin what has been a magical 2019, but it would put the whole plan of continued success in jeopardy. However, come October, I’m expecting both Soroka and Fried to be let loose on whoever plans to end the Braves season early.