Running the key to Soroka's return

February 18th, 2021

While attempting to return from his own torn Achilles tendon, has had extra reason to be encouraged by the fact Kevin Durant has returned this year and immediately reestablished himself as a top NBA MVP candidate.

“It might have taken [Durant] that extra couple months, but it’s all worth it,” Soroka said. “I don’t need to dunk off my right foot, thankfully. But I need to be strong enough to where we can sprint off the mound if we need to. It’s been a process.”

A little more than six months have passed since Soroka tore his right Achilles tendon while coming off the mound to cover first base during an Aug. 3 game against the Mets. Exactly when he will rejoin the Braves rotation will be determined as he spends the next few weeks getting a better feel for how prepared he is to pitch, run and handle the responsibilities of fielding his position.

“Would you like to have him from the get-go? Absolutely,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “But I don’t think I can give you that answer right now.”

The Braves’ bid for a fourth straight National League East title would be enriched if Soroka is able to get back to where he was when he posted a 2.68 ERA over 29 starts in 2019. The 23-year-old right-hander has come to Spring Training without any definitive limitations.

Soroka impressed Snitker with the side session he completed as Braves pitchers and catchers staged their first workout of the year on Thursday. But throwing isn’t the current concern for Soroka, who has been throwing off a mound without any problems since Jan. 18.

Soroka’s current progress will be determined by how his legs react as he increases mobility exercises over the next few weeks. He will complete running exercises on an every-other-day basis beginning Friday and eventually be cleared to participate in fielding drills.

“It’s all going to be kind of a progression,” Soroka said. “I can run a little bit. It’s not exactly where it needs to be. I think anybody watching can tell you that. I need to be able to sprint and come out of the gate hot without having to think about it. It’s getting close. But it’s just a matter of repetitions.”

As the Braves decide what is best for Soroka, they must consider the fact NL teams likely will not have the benefit of the designated hitter again this year. So, even if their young hurler is fit to pitch, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready to sprint out of the batter’s box or attempt to go from first to third base during the early days of the regular season.

With a couple of early off-days and enviable rotation depth, the Braves could address their concerns by pushing Soroka back at least a couple of weeks. Keeping him on the injured list until late April or early May could prove beneficial.

“I’m not going to set any expectations,” Snitker said. “We have four or five weeks to determine that. I don’t think it would be fair to him or us to say, ‘He’s not going to be in the starting rotation,’ ‘He’s going to be delayed’ or ‘He’s going to do this or he’s going to do that.’ We’ll see as we go. I don’t think we’ll push or rush or do anything to pin anything like that down.”

Extending his wait might not be what Soroka wants right now. But he would gladly make this sacrifice if it spares him from being reintroduced to the helpless frustration he felt last year as he was stuck in Atlanta while watching his teammates push the Braves within a win of reaching the World Series.

“It was one of the crueler and harder things I’ve ever had to do,” Soroka said. “It’s cool to see a bunch of your buddies get their chance to shine -- and they did. To see them all do that was pretty cool. But to not be there was pretty hard.

“When you’re sitting on your couch at home, not throwing off your feet yet, it’s a tough moment. That’s not something I’m going to forget anytime soon. I’m glad for that. I think that’s going to help with any sort of drops of motivation.”