“You’re expecting those games to be close,” Soroka said. “You’re expecting them to go back and forth. You understand when you give up two runs early, what it does to a guy like [Scherzer] is it loosens him up. That’s not what we needed.”
Soroka surrendered the first of a career-high three home runs before recording his first out, and the Braves never solved Scherzer in an otherwise highly-productive weekend against the Nationals.
The Braves took three of four games during the division showdown, and they now sit nine games ahead of the Nationals with just 18 games remaining, thanks in part to a nine-game win streak which came to an end on Sunday. Barring an epic collapse, Atlanta will celebrate a second straight National League East title and then likely prepare for Soroka to be their Game 1 starter in the NL Division Series.
When Soroka gets the opportunity to match up against St. Louis’ Jack Flaherty, Los Angeles’ Hyun-Jin Ryu or any of the other aces he might encounter during the postseason, he’ll attempt to use the same mental fortitude that was displayed when he surrendered four runs through the first three innings of this matchup against the Nationals and then blanked them the rest of the way.
“When he came off that mound, I was kind of jacked up,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I loved how he finished his outing. He still ended it on a good note. As he goes through things and learns and experiences different things, that will be good for him.”
Soroka might have bid adieu to any lingering hope to win the NL Cy Young Award. He entered this game with the NL’s second-best ERA (2.53) and exited in third (2.67), behind both Ryu and Scherzer (2.45). But the Braves’ 22-year-old rookie is much more concerned with spending the next few weeks doing whatever is necessary to be at his best when the playoffs arrive.
This was not a typical week for Soroka, who had not allowed more than one homer in a start before surrendering two solo shots in Monday’s win over the Blue Jays. A few more elevated pitches hurt him on Sunday, when he allowed Adam Eaton’s two-run shot in the first and then surrendered a solo homer to Yan Gomes and Juan Soto within the next two innings.
Soroka allowed five homers within a span of five innings dating back to Monday’s fourth inning. He had exited Monday’s third having allowed just eight homers through 150 1/3 innings this year.
“[I made] bad pitches that got hit,” Soroka said. “It’s going to happen. Previously, I did a better job of missing out of the zone or in spots where I wasn’t going to get hurt. So, that’s on me to get those pitches down and back on those corners.”
As Soroka has posted a 4.11 ERA over his past five starts, he might be understandably showing some signs of fatigue as he approaches the end of his first full Major League season. His 158 2/3 innings (including 9 1/3 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett) eclipses the previous professional high he produced when he completed 153 2/3 innings for Double-A Mississippi in 2017.
With three scheduled off-days remaining and the comfort provided by the division lead, the Braves will have an opportunity to give Soroka additional rest down the stretch. At some point, the rotation would have to be slightly adjusted to line him up for Game 1 of the NLDS, which will be played on Oct. 3.
Even though Soroka has not been as dominant as he was when he produced a 2.13 ERA through his first 14 starts of the season, he has continued to make a strong impression. He has now allowed multiple runs in the first inning three times this season. During the two instances that preceded Sunday, he had gone through the remainder of his outing without allowing another run.
Likewise, Soroka has shown an ability to quickly distance himself from a rough outing. He allowed the Nationals four runs over six innings on July 20 and then limited them to one run over seven innings on July 31.
If the Nationals opt to keep Scherzer on normal rest, Soroka will have another chance to match up against the three-time Cy Young Award winner on Friday at Nationals Park. Soroka will feed off what he learned on Sunday and attempt to get back on track as he approaches his first chance to pitch in October.
“Obviously, it didn’t come out how I wanted it today,” Soroka said. “But I thought as a whole we really gave it to them tough [during this series]. It’s going to be fun to get back at them again next week.”