When asked if Michael Soroka is an option to start in Oakland on Monday, Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “they’re all still options.” But given there really aren’t any other legit options, there is reason to think Memorial Day will be even more special for Soroka, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since first tearing his right Achilles in 2020.
Soroka would be joining a rotation that continues to benefit from the value Charlie Morton is providing at 39 years old. Morton stumbled through a two-run fifth inning in a 2-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday afternoon, but he and Atlanta’s other starters are a key reason why this team has persevered while spending most of May without both Fried and Wright.
“You can’t replace Max and you can’t replace Kyle,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “But everyone has done a great job of stepping up.”
Wright exited a May 3 start with right shoulder inflammation and Fried strained his left forearm two days later. The Braves have gone 9-10 and lost just one game off their National League East lead during this span.
Yes, they have benefited from Ronald Acuña Jr.’s MVP-caliber contributions and Marcell Ozuna has had a great month. But the primary reason the Braves have persevered is that their rotation has produced a 3.36 ERA going back to May 6, which marked the beginning of this 19-game stretch during which neither Fried or Wright has started.
That is quite remarkable given that Fried finished second in last year’s NL Cy Young Award balloting and Wright was MLB’s only 20-game winner last year. The Braves’ rotation depth had also already been dented by the loss of Ian Anderson, who underwent Tommy John surgery after making just one start for Triple-A Gwinnett.
“It’s hard to replace those guys, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of holding our own,” Snitker said. “It’s been a really tough stretch, and we knew that going in. I think we’re hanging in there really well and giving ourselves a chance to regroup and get something going down the road.”
This is a good time of year for the Braves to tinker with their rotation. Monday will be one day shy of the one-year anniversary of Strider moving from the bullpen to the rotation.
Soroka’s return would be emotional for those who know all he has gone through physically and mentally over the past three years. He tore his right Achilles during an Aug. 3, 2020 start, and then suffered another tear while rehabbing approximately 11 months later.
At the same time, it could be a very valuable return. Soroka ranked third in the NL with the 2.68 ERA he produced during his 2019 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up season.
“It would help us tremendously; you’ve got another All-Star coming back,” d’Arnaud said. “It’s pretty special to think we have the starting pitching depth to weather the storm like we have.”
It’s too early to know how close Soroka can get to the level he reached during that memorable rookie season, but he doesn’t necessarily have to produce like a front-line starter. He just has to effectively eat innings and fill a role in a rotation that has exceeded expectations over the past few weeks.
Elder has been one of the team’s best players, as he has gone from Gwinnett’s Opening Day starter to a legitimate All-Star candidate. He ranks third in the Majors with the 2.01 ERA he has constructed through 10 starts.
Since May 6, specifically, Elder has a 2.42 ERA, Strider has a 3.57 ERA, and Morton has a 3.91 ERA. So, Soroka could be making his much-anticipated return in a very timely manner.