Strider, Soroka give hope Braves' funk could be nearing a close

May 24th, 2023

ATLANTA -- With a little more than four months left in the season, immediate results aren’t necessarily as important as events that will influence the remainder of the season.

So, while the Braves suffered an 8-1 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday night at Truist Park, the day wasn’t all bad. produced another double-digit-strikeout game and, down on the farm, showed he might be ready to return to Atlanta’s rotation for the first time since 2020.

When dealing with an injury-depleted rotation, two positive starting pitching developments within one day is almost like a win.

“We’re going to be good,” Braves first baseman said. “Everybody is going to go through injuries at some point in the season. It seems like we’ve gotten caught with it early, maybe more so than others.”

While the Braves’ rotation has been weakened with , and on the injured list for different extended periods, the Dodgers’ rotation is currently without Julio Urías, Walker Buehler and Dustin May.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for these two teams, which own the National League’s top two records. In fact, opposing clubs might not like to hear that Soroka limited Triple-A Durham to one run and two hits while throwing 96 pitches and recording eight strikeouts over six innings on Tuesday night.

As Soroka produced his finest start of the young season, Strider was dealing with some tough luck. The Atlanta right-hander recorded 11 strikeouts, but allowed four runs (two earned) over six innings. He now has 10 double-digit-strikeout performances through his first 30 career starts. Dwight Gooden (15), Bob Feller (11) and Hideo Nomo (11) are the only pitchers to ever record more such games through this span.

Olson’s inability to cleanly handle Miguel Rojas’ two-out grounder led to two unearned runs in Los Angeles’ three-run second. The other run that inning came via Jason Heyward’s impressive leadoff homer. Heyward hit a 97.6 mph fastball that just caught the top of the strike zone. This was just the second homer Strider has allowed on a 97+ mph pitch at the top of the zone, and the second homer Heyward has hit on such a pitch since at least 2015.

“Everybody gets away with a few mistakes a game, and I didn’t tonight,” Strider said. “So, I’ve got to give credit to them.”

This has been a rough couple days for the Braves, who scored four runs in the first inning of this series opener. But they have scored just three runs in the 17 innings that have followed. Making this quiet stretch more frustrating is the fact that the Dodgers have started two rookies, including highly-regarded prospect Bobby Miller, who allowed one run over five innings while making his MLB debut on Tuesday.

But there is now light at the end of the tunnel. will take MLB’s third-best ERA (2.06) to the mound to face the Dodgers in Wednesday’s series finale. It looks like could come up from Triple-A Gwinnett to start against the Phillies on Thursday. Friday’s projected starter, , has been effective in his two starts since returning from Gwinnett.

The Braves could then end the four-game set against the Phillies with on Saturday and Strider on Sunday. That would set up the option at some point next week to add Soroka, who is attempting to return to the Majors for the first time since first tearing his right Achilles tendon on Aug. 3, 2020.

Soroka entered Tuesday having completed five innings in just one previous start this year, way back on April 18. His pitch count was limited to 69-83 pitches in the four starts that followed. But his ability to efficiently get through six innings on Tuesday gives hope he will soon get a chance to rekindle the promise he created during his 2019 rookie season, when he ranked third in the NL with a 2.68 ERA.

Suddenly, for the first time since Wright (right shoulder inflammation) and Fried (left forearm strain) were injured in early May, it feels like the Braves could soon feel stability within their rotation.

“I think we’re doing a good job of weathering the storm here,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.