ATLANTA -- As the Braves bid to remain atop the National League East standings, they find themselves with a talented young rotation that once again includes Mike Soroka, who ended a month-long injury absence with a performance that indicated he could be a valuable difference maker in the season's final
ATLANTA -- As the Braves bid to remain atop the National League East standings, they find themselves with a talented young rotation that once again includes Mike Soroka, who ended a month-long injury absence with a performance that indicated he could be a valuable difference maker in the season's final few months.
"He's as good as he wants to be," Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. "He's got all the talent in the world. It's just a matter of piecing it all together and making adjustments when he needs to. He's got the mindset for it and the ability."
Showing the poise of a seasoned veteran during Wednesday afternoon's 2-0 win over the Mets, Soroka outdueled Jacob deGrom and carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning. Not bad for a 20-year-old right-hander who was making his fourth career start and first since being placed on the disabled list on May 17.
"I felt awesome," Soroka said. "Just getting out there again and feeling the rush of adrenaline and the butterflies you feel before a game are the things you really miss when you get right down to it."
There is a lot to like right now about the first-place Braves, who saw Freddie Freeman drive in the only two runs in this victory that completed a two-game sweep of the reeling Mets. Freeman's offensive contributions have been consistently supported by a rotation that features Mike Foltynewicz, who has a 0.86 ERA over his past seven starts, and fellow All-Star candidate Sean Newcomb, who has allowed two earned runs or less in nine of 13 starts.
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Now Atlanta's starting staff can once again rely on the tremendous talent of Soroka, who ranks as the game's 26th-best prospect, per MLB Pipeline.
"The future is bright," Freeman said. "You've heard about these guys the past couple years. They're finally here and they're taking the next step this year. It's huge for us. When you can come to the field every single day and know you have a chance to win, that's big."
Soroka faced the minimum and held the Mets hitless until Michael Conforto opened the seventh inning with an infield single to shortstop that might have been prevented had Swanson not been shaded toward the second-base bag. The right-hander followed with a strikeout of Todd Frazier and then exited his 74-pitch return having allowed one hit over 6 1/3 innings.
"The limited time I've seen him, I've felt like [Soroka could have a special outing] every time I've seen him pitch," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He was very efficient. It was really good."
Soroka totaled 73 pitches in the second and final rehab start last week, but he had not completed as many as five innings in more than a month. Snitker entered this game thinking he'd limit the prized prospect to six innings, but he extended the boundary with the no-hit bid still alive. But regardless of what had transpired, Soroka was not going to pitch more than seven innings.
"It was more about him, his innings and what he's physically prepared to do," Snitker said.
As he traded zeros with deGrom, Soroka said he found himself in a zone that prevented him from even thinking about his no-hit bid until the sixth inning. He ended his outing with a strikeout of Frazier and had no problem handing the ball to lefty reliever A.J. Minter, who promptly retired left-handed hitters Brandon Nimmo and Jay Bruce to strand Conforto in the seventh.
"As much as the situation wants you to keep pitching, you've got two lefties coming up and I think you've got one of the best left-handed relievers coming out of the 'pen," Soroka said. "So I was pretty confident."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
One was enough: Freeman provided cushion when he drilled an eighth-inning solo shot off Jerry Blevins, but it was his one-out single in the fourth inning that proved to be the decisive contribution. Swanson doubled off deGrom and then alertly took off when Freeman followed with a sinking liner that landed in front of Nimmo in left field. The Braves' shortstop never broke stride as he neared third and scored uncontested after Nimmo fumbled the ball.
Along with being 2-2 with a 0.87 ERA over his past 10 starts, deGrom is 0-1 with a 0.72 ERA in four starts against Atlanta this year.
"One run against deGrom is like six," Freeman said. "He never makes mistakes. I think he's one of the top two or three pitchers in this whole entire game. When we had our advance meeting in the morning, it's almost like you just say, 'Good luck and hopefully you hit one today.'"
At 20 years and 313 days, Soroka became the youngest Braves pitcher in the modern era to allow one hit or less in a start of any length. Since World War II, only 17 other Major Leaguers aged 20 or younger have allowed one hit or less in a start of at least 6 1/3 innings. The most recent had been the Dodgers' Julio Urias on May 9, 2017.
Swanson's opposite-field double in the fourth was hit against deGrom's 95-mph fastball. The Braves' shortstop has hit .359 (14-for-39) vs. 95-plus mph pitches this year, according to Statcast™, after he hit .170 (9-for-53) against such pitches in 2017.
Wednesday's game wrapped up in a tidy two hours and 12 minutes, making it the second-shortest game of the season after the D-backs' two-hour, five-minute 1-0 win over the Giants on April 17. The last time the Braves finished a nine-inning game that quickly was July 5, 2016 (two hours, eight minutes).
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Swanson aided Soroka's effort with a couple defensive gems. The shortstop was shaded toward third base in the second inning when Kevin Plawecki hit a 99.3-mph double-play grounder to second baseman Ozzie Albies, who had to briefly stall before feeding Swanson, who glided over second base before firing to first base.
"I wasn't meant to run that far," Swanson said. "I'm more of a sprint kind of guy. That was kind of long. We were laughing about it. It was pretty funny."
Swanson then extended the no-hit bid when he ranged to his right and snared Plawecki's fifth-inning grounder before fading into the outfield grass and spinning to making a pinpoint throw to first base to record an out.
"I don't know how those guys right their bodies to make a throw like that," Snitker said. "He's done that two or three times this past week with rangy plays like that."
Anibal Sanchez will attempt to extend his recent success when the Braves open a four-game series against the Padres on Thursday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Sanchez, who owns a 2.37 ERA through six appearances (five starts), will duel right-hander Tyson Ross at SunTrust Park. The Braves have not announced their rotation for the remainder of the series.
Brandon McCarthy could start Friday and Newcomb on Saturday. Both would take the mound with an extra day of rest. Julio Teheran could then come off the disabled list to start Sunday's series finale.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.