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Soroka all kinds of impressive for Braves

Rookie allows just one earned run again, but bullpen loses game in messy eighth
@mlbbowman
May 26, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Soroka began the season in the Minors, attempting to prove his bothersome right shoulder was healthy. Two months later, the Braves rookie has produced legitimate All-Star aspirations and created reason to argue he has begun his career as effectively as any pitcher of the past century.

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Soroka began the season in the Minors, attempting to prove his bothersome right shoulder was healthy. Two months later, the Braves rookie has produced legitimate All-Star aspirations and created reason to argue he has begun his career as effectively as any pitcher of the past century.

Soroka assumed the appearance of a budding ace again Saturday night, then watched his latest gem go unrewarded when the Cardinals gained a 6-3 victory courtesy of Jedd Gyorko’s three-run homer in the eighth against Dan Winkler.

Box score

“There were a few things that were within our control tonight that we didn’t get done,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “When you play close games like that, you’ve got to be pretty clean.”

Before getting into the forced and unforced misfortunes that plagued the Braves as they lost for just the fourth time in their past 15 games, it’s important to recognize just how influential Soroka has been to the surge that has enabled Atlanta to produce the National League’s fourth-best winning percentage.

Soroka found himself with a 1.07 ERA after he limited the Cardinals to two runs -- one earned -- and five hits over six innings. The 21-year-old right-hander joins Mike Norris (1980) and Edinson Volquez (2008) as the only pitchers of the Live Ball Era (1920-present) to allow one run or less in each of the first eight starts to begin a season.

Earlier this month, Soroka became the first pitcher since 1913 (when both leagues began recognizing earned runs as an official stat) to allow one earned run or less in eight of his first 10 starts. That distinction has been extended to nine times through his first 11 starts.

According to Elias, Soroka’s 1.07 ERA is the third-lowest produced through the first eight starts of a 21-year-old season or younger dating back to 1913. The only better marks were constructed by Fernando Valenzuela (0.50 in 1981) and Vida Blue (1.02 in 1971).

“Ultimately, you want to limit damage in big innings,” Soroka said. “You just want to make good pitches when there’s guys on and hopefully, balls are put in play to the right guys.”

Here’s a look at Saturday’s most influential moments:

Take the good with the bad
Winkler’s attempt to overthrow a 0-1 cutter to Gyorko proved disastrous when the pitch spun over the middle of the plate, allowing the veteran utility man to tally his first homer during what has been a rough season.

Had the Braves not used Sean Newcomb to protect a four-run lead in the ninth inning of Friday’s win, they might not have turned to Winkler. But while these kinds of arguments can be made on a regular basis in relation to bullpen management, there’s no doubt the Braves encountered some bad luck during the decisive eighth.

Paul Goldschmidt recorded a leadoff single with a weak liner (79.6 mph exit velocity, per Statcast) that struck Winkler’s back. Paul DeJong then benefited from a review that erased what was ruled a double play groundout. Marcell Ozuna sent DeJong to third base when he golfed an opposite-field single. Matt Carpenter preceded Gyorko’s blast with a game-tying single that could have been a double play had the Braves not been employing the shift.

Two innings earlier, the shift had foiled Carpenter when he lined out to second baseman Ozzie Albies, who was standing in shallow right.

“It all evens out and you’ve got to take it,” Snitker said. “We liked when Ozzie caught that one. I’ve watched Freddie [Freeman] and Mac [Brian McCann] and all those left-handed hitters do the same thing. It’s just one of those things in our game today that you give and take.”

Unforced errors
Soroka had totaled 23 pitches through three scoreless innings before Goldschmidt reached via catcher’s interference and scored on Carpenter’s game-tying, two-out single in the fourth. The Braves hurler encountered more misfortune when he hit Dexter Fowler with a 0-2 sinker just ahead of the two-out, go-ahead single Goldschmidt produced in the fifth.

“It felt like we almost got him swinging on that one,” Soroka said. “That’s pretty much exactly where we wanted to put it, right there on that white [batter’s box] line. It was set up for that. Sometimes, it’s a little too good.”

Even with the pair of two-out singles, Soroka has still limited opponents to a .093 (4-for-43) batting average with runners in scoring position. Or, you could also say that he allowed as many hits with runners in scoring position on Saturday as he had throughout his first seven starts.

Getting one back
After committing the catcher’s interference that led to St. Louis’ first run, Braves catcher Tyler Flowers was happy to deliver a game-tying double off Carlos Martinez and then score a go-ahead run when Albies followed with a double of his own.

Flowers has hit .324 with four homers and a .922 OPS against right-handers, but he’s batted just .138 with a .529 OPS through 32 plate appearances against left-handers. The results are different from last year, when he produced a 1.117 OPS in 88 plate appearances against lefties and a .540 OPS in 208 plate appearances against righties.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.