Soroka says Freeman's test 'kicked us into gear'
Riley becoming option to start season at first base for Braves
ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman was feeling much better on Sunday. But the fact that he tested positive and spent the past couple days feeling the ill effects of COVID-19 has served as a wakeup call to Mike Soroka and many other Braves players.
“I was surprised just like everybody, just because we knew how seriously a lot of us were taking this, especially someone like Freddie,” Soroka said. “He stayed with his family throughout the entire quarantine. That just goes to show how contagious it can be, and it’s really real.”
Freeman remained quarantined in his California home for most of the past few months and only recently returned to Atlanta to prepare for the upcoming season. According to his wife Chelsea’s Instagram account, they have not entered a grocery store or restaurant since the lockdown began.
Still, Freeman was one of four Braves to test positive this week.
“It kind of kicked us into gear to make sure we are following protocols down to the T,” Soroka said. “[Rules] are in place for a reason. We want to make sure we stay as healthy as we can as a team. I think we all realize the team that has the best chance to win is the team that stays the most together throughout most of the season. You think about losing Freddie for two weeks -- that’s huge in a 60-game season.”
Fortunately, Freeman delivered some good news Sunday when he informed friends and family that he was feeling much better than he had since Thursday. His fever has dropped, and he has regained some of the energy he had lacked over the past couple days.
The Braves will continue to maintain communication with Freeman. Once he is symptom-free for at least 72 hours and produces two negative tests over a span of more than 24 hours, he could be permitted to begin working out at Truist Park.
Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb spent the past few months working out together at a high school field in suburban Atlanta. Their efforts to stay sharp have been noticed by manager Brian Snitker.
“Some of the live [batting practices] we’ve had have been impressive,” Snitker said. “Newcomb and Folty were just nails. You could tell they had been working pretty hard during this layoff.”
Braves advance scout Braeden Schlehuber provided assistance by catching for the three hurlers over the past few months. When it came time to begin throwing live BP, Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson served as the hitters.
“That was an awesome opportunity,” Soroka said. “It was a great time to try some things that you wouldn’t get a chance to in a game situation.”
Riley at first base?
The Braves remain hopeful that Freeman will continue to recover and be ready for the start of the season, which is scheduled to begin on July 23 or 24. But if he is not, they could opt to move Austin Riley across the diamond.
Riley or Camargo will likely start the season as the team’s third baseman. Freeman’s status might now determine the result of that battle.
“Austin has looked really good [at first base],” Snitker said. “He’d be fine defensively there. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall would also be capable of playing first if needed, but there’s a chance both could see time in left field. Yonder Alonso and Pete O’Brien are also candidates, but each of them would need to be added to the 40-man roster.