Mike Soroka discusses his latest surgery, rehab process

Sidelined Braves starting pitcher Mike Soroka spoke with reporters Thursday for the first time since he underwent exploratory Achilles surgery May 17.

He said the key result of the surgery was the discovery that his body rejected sutures from a previous surgery, and that produced the setback he experienced in April and May.

Soroka, 23, has seen his promising young career derailed by injury and setbacks. He tore his Achilles in his third start last season, undergoing surgery in August and missing the remainder of the shortened campaign.

His offseason rehab went well, with Soroka even posting videos of his workouts at Truist Park. He made his first and only spring training appearance in the Braves’ final exhibition game in March.

The Braves were optimistic, publicly saying Soroka was pegged for a late-April return. But Soroka experienced right-shoulder inflammation that shut him down and pushed his potential debut date back. Realistically, the earliest Soroka could’ve returned was June.

It never reached that point, however. Braves manager Brian Snitker revealed last month that Soroka had discomfort in his Achilles and would undergo exploratory surgery in Green Bay, Wis., where he had his initial surgery a year ago.

Allow Soroka to explain why he underwent another surgery:

“For a while we didn’t know (what was wrong), and it was pretty hard. I’m not going to lie. It was about the period towards the end of spring training, right through the end, right up until that time where my shoulder kind of went down and we started looking at things. We just noticed that everything started to seem to get harder, with as far as how I was going to push off the mound, how I was running. Everything just seemed like a bit of a battle.

“We sought out help. We sought out specialists in Green Bay and nobody could really (say) what was going on. And it just got to the point where we said, ‘You know what, this process just isn’t quite working. I think we got to go in there and look, see what’s going on.’ There are a couple theories going on. And the one that actually was the initial theory, and it was actually what really happened, is my body rejected the internal sutures. It was super rare. When you hear that, it doesn’t quite make sense because most sutures absorb. And this one, the Achilles is basically supposed to take it in. But for some reason, it made the repair and decided it wanted no part of them. They’re basically floating around in there creating a bunch of inflammatory tissue response.

“That’s what I was feeling. It wasn’t very fun for a while. Basically, (the surgeon) got in there and took them out. They were sitting right on top. They weren’t absorbed. It was exactly what was creating the problem. We had to make sure that there was no infection present because that was also a concern. But that got ruled out. It was just my body not wanting any part of the sutures. It’s something that came out of the blue. And the important part was, I think it made a lot of us feel better that we didn’t hurt it. I think that was the initial thought, that we came out and we did too much too soon.

“But the reality was everything was going really, really well up through, four or five, six months. Then I just started to slow down and then even kind of go backwards for a minute. We had to figure out why. So even right out of the cast, two weeks out of surgery, it looked like a new ankle. Everything looked clean. Again, it looked like it should, and the great part is the Achilles is completely healed from the first time. Everything looks great there, and it’s basically just a matter of calf strengthening because it’s had quite a bit of time down, and that’ll be basically my entire rehab moving forward.”

The Braves haven’t ruled out the Canadian righty returning this season, though that’s very much in the air. There’s a chance he returns as early as late August, but Soroka himself didn’t place a timetable on his return.

There could be value in Soroka returning regardless of the Braves’ position in the standings. If the team re-emerges and rejoins the postseason picture, perhaps Soroka can be a small on-field boost (he’ll obviously be limited) and a great morale lift. If the team has fallen out of the race – that’s a growing possibility as they slip in the National League East standings – Soroka could still pitch in game action again. Otherwise, he’ll essentially have a two-season absence. But the sides could also ultimately decide, with his long-term interests in mind, Soroka should just focus on next season.

Until it’s ruled out, though, there’s a possibility of Soroka returning later this summer. It only would happen if the player and team are comfortable that he’s ready.

“It’s something that I’m going to have to be honest with myself, because I do think we’re getting to a point where it feels good,” Soroka said. “But where do we draw that line where things feel good? Are they actually, truly ready to do their job? Because I’m not going out there to walk and just do daily things. I’m going out there to be at my best and that’s in the best league there is. So it’s going to be something that we have to take even week by week down that road, even when I’m back on the mound. Whenever that might be, we have to be honest with ourselves.

“But my goal is to help this team and in whatever respect that may be. I’m still just watching this team. I know we all think that there’s something that’s going to click soon. And I still think we’re going to be there in September, October fighting for spots. And I’d love to be there.”

Soroka, once the organization’s top pitching prospect, seemed destined to join the lengthy list of long-time Braves aces before injuries stalled him. In 2019, his first and latest full season, Soroka was an All-Star and had a 2.68 ERA across 29 starts for the 97-win Braves. He also made his first postseason start that October, holding the Cardinals to one run over seven innings in the Braves’ NL Division Series Game 3 victory in St. Louis.