OAKLAND, Calif. – On Monday afternoon, Michael Soroka sat in the visiting dugout at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. With his headphones in, he stared out at the ballpark ahead of his first MLB start in almost three years.
That this day occurred at all is an accomplishment for Soroka, who had a lengthy road back.
The Braves lost, 7-2, to the Athletics – baseball’s worst bunch – but Soroka’s return provided some brightness to an otherwise underwhelming evening here.
1. The anticipation from the time between Aug. 3, 2020 – Soroka’s last big-league start – and Monday culminated with his first pitches back in the majors. And in that first inning, he looked like his old self as he got a weak grounder to third base, a looking strikeout and another soft grounder in a perfect inning.
A sign of how excited Braves fans were for this day: After the clean first inning, Braves fans in Oakland gave Soroka a standing ovation fit for the end of a pitcher’s outing, not the beginning.
“Different,” Soroka said of that moment. “I wanted to kind of stay within myself a little bit. I tried to give a little nod, but I didn’t want to take the hat off and give a big salute after one inning, just getting three outs. I had a bunch more left to get. But that was pretty cool.”
Soroka allowed four runs over six innings. He struck out three batters and walked two. He threw 83 pitches. One bad inning stung him. And it may not have mattered had his offense erupted against the Athletics, who are 11-45 after beating the Braves.
Of course, Soroka dealt with many emotions.
“Honestly, I think I did a decent job of kind of keeping those put away for a little bit,” he said. “I think actually going out after the fourth, I started really feeling it a little bit, made some real good pitches and started to try and do a little too much, and I think that’s when I let the emotions creep in. It’ll be a lesson for next time.
“But definitely, it’s nice to get back out there and kind of just feel all these things and enjoy this moment, enjoy seeing a lot of these guys that I’ve known for two-plus years, and haven’t really got to go out there and pitch for.”
2. In the third inning, Soroka loaded the bases on consecutive singles and a hit batsman. Then he induced an inning-ending double play.
He could not do the same in the fifth inning, when Oakland hung four runs on him after he had thrown four scoreless frames.
Three scored on Ryan Noda’s homer, which he hit on a changeup at the bottom of the zone.
“We could talk about whether I went one too many (changeups), but I think it was more of a misexecution,” Soroka said. “Kind of gave him a cookie that he could handle.”
The rally began when Soroka hit former Braves prospect Shea Langeliers with an 0-2 pitch. He eventually gave up consecutive singles, the second of which scored a run.
Soroka threw his sinker, changeup, slider and four-seam fastball. He averaged 93 mph on his four-seamer, and touched 96 mph.
“For being out as long as he has and then to go six innings in your first major-league game in two and a half years, I thought his stuff was really good, too,” Snitker said. “He hung a changeup. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good first step for him.”
“We got the swings we wanted, we were getting good results when we made our pitches, and I think that’s all you can ask,” catcher Sean Murphy said.
3. A positive: After that fifth inning, Soroka returned in the sixth and didn’t allow a run, which was a nice finish to his outing.
Overall, this was a successful return.
“It’s gonna be a night to enjoy for sure,” Soroka said. “It almost feels like it is a second debut, in a way. Had a lot of fun out there. Gonna go out there and compete next time.”
4. For the second time in as many outings, lefty Lucas Luetge entered at the start of an inning and couldn’t get out of it.
This time, he threw 30 pitches and only recorded one out. He allowed three runs.
It was ugly, but it didn’t matter because the offense was mostly silent.
5. The former Athletics provided the only runs for Atlanta.
Murphy drove in one on a first-inning single. In the eighth, Matt Olson blasted a solo homer.
That was it.
Before Monday, Oakland had lost 11 straight games. The Athletics’ 10-45 record entering Monday was the second-worst mark after 55 games by any team since 1900.
Stats to know
1,029, 2, 3 - There were 1,029 days between Soroka’s last big-league start and Monday. In that time, he tore his Achilles tendon twice and underwent three procedures to repair it.
“This is a guy that comes out and hadn’t been in the big leagues. It’s going to be a little bit emotional for him doing that, also. But to get through six innings I thought was really, really good.” - Snitker on Soroka
On Tuesday, Bryce Elder will face Oakland lefty JP Sears. First pitch is at 9:40 p.m. ET.