CINCINNATI -- As he strolled toward the mound during the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over the Reds, Braves manager Brian Snitker simply wanted confirmation from veteran catcher Brian McCann, who had the utmost confidence Mike Soroka had the mettle necessary to further extend beyond his limits.
“I said, ‘We’ve got it,’” McCann said recapping the brief mound visit. “'He’s got enough in the tank, and he’s been in control from pitch one.' I really liked the matchup that was coming up. When you pitch that well, I love that. That’s something where he deserved that hitter, and he got it. If you pitch like that and you attack the zone and you keep guys off balance, that was his game to lose.”
Soroka recorded just one of the final two outs of the sixth inning, but the 21-year-old right-hander further endeared himself with the resolve and talent he showed during this career-high 109-pitch effort. The Braves’ top prospect had never thrown more than 90 pitches in any of his previous six career starts. But his manager still had the confidence he could get the job done with two on and his pitch count at 98 with one out in the sixth.
“I could have been talked out of leaving him in, but I wanted to talk to Mac and see what he thought,” Snitker said. “He was very adamant about them being right where they needed to be.”
Ozzie Albies homered off Tanner Roark’s first pitch of the game and Ronald Acuña Jr. scored when Yasiel Puig allowed a Nick Markakis single to skip under his glove and reach the outfield wall in the fifth. These two plate appearances provided all of the necessary support for Soroka, who leaned heavily on an effective two-seam fastball while allowing just one run over 5 2/3 innings.
“You don’t give in to somebody pitching well against you, but there’s a time to give them credit, too, and their pitcher tonight deserves credit for how he pitched against us,” Reds manager David Bell said.
Having distanced himself from the shoulder ailments that forced him to miss much of last season and most of this year’s Spring Training, Soroka returned to the Major League level last week and provided a reminder of what he can do when healthy. The young Canadian made the mistake of wearing shorts to the ballpark on Tuesday and paid the price when his teammates dismantled those shorts with scissors.
But those same teammates recognize the maturity possessed by the young hurler, who was just 7 years old when McCann debuted with the Braves in 2005.
“He doesn’t get caught up in where he’s at,” McCann said. “I know this is the big leagues and you probably wait your whole life to get here, but when you can slow the moment down, the game becomes easier. He has that ability. He’s well beyond his years.”
Soroka went away from the four-seam fastball after allowing a run in the first, and he didn’t blink after surrendering consecutive two-out hits in the third. He had retired eight straight before surrendering Yasiel Puig’s weak infield single with one out in the sixth. Snitker popped out of the dugout when Derek Dietrich followed with a walk, but he had no intention of making a pitching change.
“When Snit came out, he didn’t motion [toward the bullpen],” McCann said. “I went out and I was like, ‘Let’s go, this is going to be the turning point in the game right here. You’ve got to bear down and make a pitch.’ I love that he came out and asked if his stuff is still there.”
Added Soroka: “I told him I felt good and I was ready to go. We talked over a plan for the next batter or two. Got a nice little breather and I just heard the guys say, ‘Go get them.’”
Soroka induced Tucker Barnhart’s dribbler in front of the plate and then exited when his final pitch -- a 3-2 two-seamer to Phillip Ervin -- missed outside. Wanting somebody who would throw strikes with the bases loaded, Snitker called upon long reliever Josh Tomlin, whose one-pitch outing consisted of Scott Schebler’s groundout to first.
“I told him after I took him out, 'I’m glad you got to experience that there, trying to get out of that inning,’” Snitker said. “The kid was really, really good. He just kind of ran out of pitches.”