A little more than 20 minutes after pitching against an opposing team for the first time in nearly eight months, Mike Soroka couldn’t hide his excitement. The 23-year-old Braves pitcher smiled brightly while talking about the two-inning appearance he made in a 5-3 win over the Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon at JetBlue Park.
“I was pretty anxious to get in,” Soroka said. “We had these last couple days [of the spring schedule] circled on the calendar. We did everything we could do to [reach] that.”
Manager Brian Snitker felt that giving Soroka a chance to pitch the final two innings of the Braves' Grapefruit League season was a perfect way to conclude what he viewed as a successful Spring Training.
“Having him get out there and pitch against somebody else was important to Mike and the medical staff and all the hard work they’ve done,” Snitker said. “It was good to see him do that successfully and reward all of them for all the hard work they’ve done since he went down.”
When the Braves begin the defense of their three consecutive National League East titles on Thursday in Philadelphia, they will be without Soroka, who needs a few more weeks to recover from the torn right Achilles tendon he suffered on Aug. 3.
If all goes right, Soroka could rejoin Atlanta’s rotation by the end of April. He has thrown as many as four innings in simulated games over the past few weeks. But he’ll likely aim for three frames in his next outing and then progressively build up over each subsequent start.
Soroka will be taking the next step of his rehab and recovery process at the team’s alternate training site, Triple-A Gwinnett’s Coolray Field. His aim is to complete his preparations and provide the team with what he offered in 2019, when he finished sixth in NL Cy Young Award balloting after posting the NL’s third-best ERA (2.68).
“I can go out there and compete,” Soroka said. “But it’s a matter of making sure we get to truly 110 percent of where I was before and to where there is no problem. Once I’m back, I’m back.”
Whenever Soroka finished a bullpen session or a simulated game over the past few weeks, he would head to a back field and practice coming off the mound to cover first base. The repetition helped erase any lingering fear he may have had about the strength and durability of his Achilles.
Soroka didn’t show any hesitation whenever he had to break toward first while holding the Red Sox to one run over two frames Tuesday. He entered in the sixth and used his curveball to record a pair of strikeouts during his first inning of work. He then surrendered a home run when Boston prospect Jarren Duran turned on a 3-2 fastball to begin the bottom of the seventh.
“It was kind of nice that I got into trouble a little bit,” Soroka said. “I had to get out there and keep making pitches just like I would during the season. That’s something you don’t feel in sim games.”
Soroka continued his outing by proving his sinker still has the ability to induce a timely ground ball. He got Jeter Downs to ground into a game-ending double play, then began looking forward to making the progression that will allow him to once again become a key member of Atlanta’s rotation.
“It’s going well, and it’s going in the right direction,” Soroka said. “I’m excited to get back, whenever that might be.”