Soroka shows more than just mettle on long road back to MLB

May 29th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

We know that we can look forward to Memorial Day on an annual basis. We spent the past couple years not knowing if we’d ever see Michael Soroka pitching in a Major League game again. 

So, with Soroka making his much-anticipated return to Atlanta’s rotation tonight, this Memorial Day might prove to be a little more memorable for Braves fans and the countless members of the baseball world who have been pulling for the beloved Canadian hurler. 

Like there are both good pitchers and great pitchers, there are good human beings and great human beings. Having torn his right Achilles tendon twice within the past three years, we don’t know what level of pitcher Soroka might be. But it seems safe to say, he’ll always be a great human being.

To think about all he has gone through over the past few years, it’s easy to ask, “Why does this keep happening to Michael?”  Well, instead of taking a woe-is-me approach, Soroka has spent the past couple years being an inspiration to both athletes and non-athletes who have endured long bouts with adversity.

Soroka had been on top of the world before he first tore his right Achilles tendon while coming off the mound to cover first base on Aug. 3, 2020.  He posted the National League’s third-best ERA (2.68) during his great 2019 rookie season.  Then, three starts into the COVID-shortened 2020 season, his future was in doubt.

That future became even cloudier nearly 11 full months later, when he tore the same Achilles tendon while simply walking in the Braves clubhouse for treatment and rehab.  Now, the mental challenges started to become every bit as daunting as the physical ones. 

“I think it would be hard for a lot of us to put ourselves in his shoes,” Braves pitcher Charlie Morton said. “A lot of us have had injuries or surgeries, but most of us haven’t had failure in a year-long rehab that required another significant revision or repair that required us to go through it all again.”

Soroka’s longshot bid to return to the Majors late last year ended with right elbow discomfort. His bid to win a rotation spot out of Spring Training ended when he strained his right hamstring a day before he was set to make the drive from Atlanta to the Braves’ complex in Florida. 

“It’s a kick in the groin,” Soroka said at the time.

Soroka’s patience and dedication has been tested far too often as he has seemingly led the league in bad luck the past few years. The Braves gradually built him back up over the past couple months at the Triple-A level and they decided to turn him loose after he allowed just one run during a 96-pitch, six-inning performance on Tuesday. 

Soroka has a chance to further strengthen a rotation that has continued to be one of the game’s best, even without both Max Fried and Kyle Wright. Soroka's return is quite timely as Fried will likely miss at least another month and Wright will be sidelined even longer. 

Time will tell whether Soroka can get back to that elite level he reached before first tearing his Achilles. But for now, it’s just great to see a good person back doing something we didn’t know if he’d ever do again. 

“I hope he gets in a little groove and he’s feeling good regardless of performance,” Morton said. “I know that’s not what some people want to me to say. But there are more factors and variables with him than just getting back and trying to be somebody he was.”