Soroka eyes Opening Day start for Braves

March 11th, 2020

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As worked four scoreless innings in Tuesday afternoon’s 3-0 split-squad win over the Astros, he took another step toward becoming the youngest Opening Day starter in Braves history.

Superstition has prevented Braves manager Brian Snitker from officially announcing his Opening Day starter, but it’s easy to assume the honor will be given to Soroka, who will be 22 years and 235 days old when the Braves begin the regular season on March 26 in Arizona.

Per Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, the Braves’ youngest Opening Day starter since at least 1904 is Julio Teheran, who was 23 years and 63 days when he made the first of his six consecutive Opening Day starts in 2014.

Soroka would also be the youngest Major Leaguer to start on Opening Day since Jose Fernandez -- 21 years and 243 days -- in 2014. For those wondering, current Brave Félix Hernández made the first of his 11 Opening Day starts for the Mariners in 2007, when he was six days shy of his 21st birthday.

“Whenever you are envisioning things, you always put yourself in people’s shoes,” Soroka said. “When you’re watching on TV or watching whatever, you always want to think that’s going to be you out there someday. I’ve thought about [an Opening Day start] a lot. If I get that opportunity, that would be amazing.”

Soroka surrendered just one hit and pitched around three walks in this latest tuneup against the Astros. During his final two spring starts, he would like to find more consistent command of his changeup, a pitch he used less frequently than his sinker, slider and four-seamer while producing the National League’s third-best ERA (2.68) last year. Still, he got quality results as opponents hit .133, slugged .265 and produced a 39.1-percent whiff rate against this offspeed pitch.

“All four pitches have been there all spring,” Soroka said. “I’ll use these last two outings for what we can get out of them and make sure that the whole package [is] there on Opening Weekend.”

K Martin?

Those who might have been worried about ’s health should know he has struck out seven of the 10 batters he has faced since the Braves opted to slow his preparations during the early portion of Spring Training.

Martin recorded two strikeouts in a perfect eighth inning against the Astros and has now allowed just one hit over three scoreless innings (three appearances). The 6-foot-8 right-handed reliever recorded a 1.38 ERA and produced a 34.8 percent strikeout rate over the final 14 regular season appearances he made for the Braves last year.

Had Martin not strained his left oblique while warming up for what became a destructive eighth inning during Game 1 of the National League Division Series, there’s reason to believe the Braves would have advanced to the National League Championship Series. His value was recognized when Atlanta gave him a two-year, $14 million deal in November.

“He’s throwing just like he did before he got hurt throwing in the playoffs,” Snitker said. “If he stays healthy, he’s as good as it gets.”

Freeman scratched vs. O's

was a late scratch from Tuesday's 6-3 split-squad loss to the Orioles in Sarasota due to a family matter, according to the team. Freeman, who was replaced by Ryan Casteel in the Braves' lineup, is expected to return to action by the end of the week.

Snit’s busy day

Before Tuesday’s first split-squad game, Snitker spent time with his son, Troy, who is the Astros' hitting coach. After the game ended around 4 p.m. ET, the Braves’ manager and his coaches quickly grabbed their belongings and made the approximate 45-minute trip to Sarasota for the 6 p.m. ET game against the Orioles.

“I would drive myself nuts if I went home, knowing there was a baseball game,” Snitker said. “It’s fun. I get to watch two baseball games.”

Up next

Max Fried will take the mound when the Braves travel to Ft. Myers to play the Twins on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Fried has been focused on improving his changeup, a pitch he used sparingly while going 17-6 with a 4.15 ERA in 30 starts last year. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna are both expected to be in Atlanta's lineup.