Soroka’s results have earned him consideration for both the National League Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards. His resolve has allowed him to savor the kind of satisfaction he tasted by exacting revenge against Max Scherzer while guiding the Braves to a 5-0 win over the Nationals on Friday night at Nationals Park.
“Any time you get a chance to rematch after an outing that didn’t go your way the first time, I think you have a little more incentive and a little more giddyup the second time around,” Soroka said. “So, it was nice to put that to use.”
Five days after being bested by Scherzer in Atlanta, Soroka limited the Nationals to one hit over six innings and exited with MLB’s second-best ERA (2.57). The 22-year-old right-hander will have two more starts to prepare for his first postseason and possibly pass the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu, who leads MLB with a 2.45 ERA.
Scherzer owned MLB’s second-best ERA before the Braves tallied three runs during his 99-pitch, five-inning effort. Markakis certainly didn’t look like a guy who was playing his first game at any level since fracturing his left wrist on July 26. The Braves outfielder doubled during a two-run fourth and then further damaged the three-time Cy Young Award winner with a long sacrifice fly in the fifth.
“Soroka threw as well as I’ve seen him throw, especially against a lineup like that,” Markakis said. “As usual, he commanded all of his pitches and threw them in any count. He was working ahead of hitters like he always does. It was fun to watch.”
Before deciding whether Soroka would start Game 1 of the National League Division Series, the Braves will focus on winning a second straight National League East title. By taking four of the five games played against the second-place Nationals this week, they’ve gained a 9 1/2-game lead and cut their magic number to six with 13 games remaining.
As the Braves have won 20 of their past 25 games, they have claimed a series win over the Dodgers, swept the still-contending Mets and forced the Nationals to focus on securing one of the NL’s two Wild Card spots.
“I don’t look at it like we’re sending messages,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think it’s a big deal when you win that first game of a big series.”
Snitker gained a good feel about this series opener when he crossed paths with Soroka on Friday morning at the team hotel. The skipper could tell his young right-hander was looking forward to another matchup against Scherzer. Soroka completed six innings in last weekend’s game against the Nationals, but he was doomed by the career-high three homers he surrendered within the first three innings.
Adam Eaton, Juan Soto and Yan Gomes accounted for those three homers. Soroka walked Soto in two plate appearances on Friday, and Gomes didn’t hit a ball out of the infield in his two at-bats against the rookie hurler. Soroka pitched around consecutive walks to begin the second and was not damaged by Eaton’s leadoff double in the fourth.
“He wanted to come back and answer that last start,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We all know he’s better than that. He doesn’t really give up home runs. He came out and sent a message that he was better than that. That was huge for us to get that first one out of the way.”
Given that Soroka had surrendered two homers in a start against the Blue Jays on Sept. 2, it was natural to react to last weekend’s start by questioning whether he was feeling some fatigue. He’s now thrown 164 2/3 innings, which trumps the previous professional high (153 2/3 innings) completed for Double-A Mississippi in 2017.
But these latest six innings indicated he’s ready to continue feeding off the adrenaline felt when matching up against another elite pitcher. Soroka was determined to realize a different result. But instead of focusing on what it would take to beat Scherzer, he focused on getting back to what made him successful throughout this season.
“A lot of it was going back to basics and just kind of being a little more relaxed on the mound and not giving in,” Soroka said. “Where we were getting hurt in past games was when I was coming over the plate with too good of pitches to hit. Whereas tonight, we made our pitches to our guys.”