Soroka's strained hamstring 'a kick in the groin'

February 21st, 2023

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Michael Soroka provided a clear response when asked how to best describe what he was feeling when he added a right hamstring strain to the long list of physical ailments he has experienced during a still-young career.

“It’s a kick in the groin,” Soroka said. “Honestly, when it happened, I was pretty worried, I was pretty scared.”

It appears the hamstring “scare” Soroka experienced earlier this month might put him just a couple weeks behind with his preseason preparations. But the timing was unfortunate. The Braves right-hander was looking forward to showing he can still be an effective starting pitcher, despite twice tearing his right Achilles tendon within the past three years.

But instead of being on the field competing for a rotation spot, he’s spent much of the early portion of Spring Training in the trainer’s room, a location he has visited far too often over the past few years.

His most recent ailment occurred as he was stretching and simulating his delivery at his Atlanta residence. The 25-year-old hurler had spent the afternoon playing catch with former Braves reliever Darren O’Day and was just doing a little extra work when he felt the hamstring discomfort.

“Yeah, it’s pretty frustrating, especially given the early offseason [I needed] just to get ready for this Spring Training,” Soroka said. “Coming down with [the hamstring strain] wasn’t fun. But that’s how it goes. We’ll be moving forward here pretty shortly.”

Soroka has continued to throw on flat ground, but the Braves haven’t determined when he might be cleared to begin running and throwing off a mound again.

“He’s been through a lot,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I was hoping he’d come to camp and just be a normal guy. Eventually, he’s going to get to that. He’ll be there sooner than later and be able to go. It is what it is.”

Unfortunately, Soroka’s current situation feels too much like his new normal. Here’s a list of his injuries:

• Made five big league starts in 2018 before being shut down for the season in June with right shoulder inflammation

• Came to Spring Training in 2019 with a sore right shoulder, which was blamed on aggressive weight lifting

• Tore his right Achilles on Aug. 3, 2020, while making his third start of the pandemic-shortened season

• Tore his right Achilles again on June 24, 2021, while walking in the Braves clubhouse for rehab

• Was shut down for the season after experiencing right elbow soreness while making a rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Sept. 16, 2022

• Tweaked his right hamstring on Feb. 12

The hamstring ailment has likely erased Soroka’s expected battle with best friend Ian Anderson for the fifth spot in Atlanta’s rotation. But without setbacks, the injury-plagued hurler could still be ready to pitch for Triple-A Gwinnett or Atlanta at some point in April.

“I need to go out there and play baseball,” Soroka said. “I miss it. That’s number one. But I understand this is a process. It takes a little while for some guys. A lot of guys go through this at different times.”

If the law of averages applies here, Soroka could flourish in healthy fashion for many years to come. The Canadian hurler showed the baseball world his great potential when he posted the National League’s third-best ERA (2.68) while making 29 starts in 2019. He limited the Cardinals to two hits over seven innings in Game 3 of the NL Division Series that year and finished sixth in NL Cy Young Award balloting.

It looked like Soroka was going to become one of the game’s elite starters. But three years later, a lot of what-ifs surround his career. He has totaled just 37 starts since making his MLB debut on May 1, 2018, and just three of those have occurred within the past three seasons.

Soroka’s patience has been tested far too often since last pitching in the Majors in 2020. But if there are no lingering effects from this latest hamstring strain, he can reintroduce himself to the encouragement he felt as he neared the end of his offseason workouts with no concern about his twice-repaired Achilles tendon.

“That was the real kick,” Soroka said. “My entire body felt the best it has in a long, long time. I’ve done some good work with some really good people and I wasn’t able to show it off here early in camp. I’ll put that in the back pocket and bring it out in a few weeks."