It’s hard to know where to begin when revisiting the Braves’ misfortunes earlier in 2021. But perhaps the saddest development was announced on June 26.
All-Star starter Mike Soroka, who’d already suffered setbacks in his comeback from a right Achilles tear sustained last August, re-tore his Achilles and was out for the season.
For Soroka, a trying 10-month journey culminated with square one. And a promising young career experienced further delay.
“I was kind of just hobbling along, putting some pressure into the ground and getting the heel up and about 10 feet from the entryway door here at Truist (Park),” Soroka said. “It went ‘bang.’ And you know, I don’t think any of us really believed it. I could still kind of move my foot up and down a little bit. And we’re hopeful that it was a giant clump of scar tissue, but that wasn’t the case.
“It floored me. That moment, without a doubt, was one of the hardest moments of my life. And having to make the decision, how you’re going to handle that and go from there. It was pretty heavy. I’m thankful for a good support system and getting me through that time because it’s going to be a time I look back on to gain some strength from and go from there.”
Whenever he next pitches in a major-league game, it would become an inspiring comeback story. Soroka, who turned 24 earlier this month, has undergone three Achilles surgeries in the past year.
His first blow was early in the shortened 2020 season, when Soroka first tore his Achilles while sprinting off the mound to cover first base during a game against the Mets. He underwent surgery with Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The right-hander spent the offseason rehabbing. He pitched in the Braves’ spring-training finale in March, an encouraging sign as the team targeted a late-April return. But Soroka was stalled by right-shoulder inflammation and was shut down.
Manager Brian Snitker said in May that Soroka felt discomfort in his Achilles and required exploratory surgery. Soroka returned to Green Bay and underwent the surgery May 17. The procedure showed that the pitcher’s body was rejecting the internal sutures placed in the Achilles during his first surgery. Soroka said the Achilles itself was healed.
Snitker backtracked comments on a national show in which he ruled Soroka out for the season. It turned out the Braves were hopeful the youngster would rejoin the club down the stretch (“We thought maybe, before the end of the year, he’d be back,” Snitker said.). The player likewise didn’t rule out the possibility.
But the first day Soroka was out of a walking boot, he felt a pop while walking to the clubhouse at Truist Park. He’d re-torn the Achilles, erasing his months of diligence and setting him back to the beginning.
Soroka wasn’t angry over circumstances out of his control, but he felt he’d failed.
“I don’t know if it was exactly anger,” Soroka said, describing his feelings when the injury happened. “Immediately, you look for reasons as to why that could have happened. But I feel like the anger would have been somewhere else if there was blame to be put anywhere, and there’s not. There’s no sense in being angry at something (that’s not) changing. It was probably just a sense of failure, to be honest with you. We all fail in life and in this industry. Failure is just part of this game. But when you go through a process like that, and failure is not on your mind, and you go nine months through a rehab process, and essentially it doesn’t work, you feel like you failed. Immediately you’re going back and, ‘What could I do differently? What did I do wrong?’ And you find out that maybe you just you didn’t do anything wrong and you couldn’t have changed it.
“So it was probably a sense of failure and having to basically restart the process and feel like, in some ways, physically at least, the last nine months was kind of a waste. That was probably the worst part of it, in getting over that, and I learned a lot about myself. I got to learn a lot of other things while I was down the first time. And, again, this process is not something I’d wish on somebody, but I know I’ll be stronger from it. So looking forward to that day when I can look back and draw strength from this entire process.”
The latest incident was an anomaly. White Sox third baseman Jake Burger was the only other recent example of a player re-rupturing his Achilles, though even Burger’s situation was different because the Achilles wasn’t yet healed before it was re-torn. Burger was among those who sent encouraging messages to Soroka.
Dr. Anderson wouldn’t change anything about the initial surgery, Soroka said. “It’s never a sure thing – sometimes weird things happen,” he acknowledged. The hunch was Soroka had a reaction to the sutures, so they used both absorbable and permanent sutures in his latest surgery. A hamstring graft was also weaved into the Achilles tendon, Soroka said, to add additional strength. Soroka said it looks better than the first time.
Soroka’s future is unclear. He’s going to attack the rehab process with the same enthusiasm as before. He and the team will proceed with extra caution, of course, knowing the delicacy of the situation.
It’s pointless at this juncture to discuss timelines. Soroka will just move forward and aim to take the mound again sometime next year. The earliest that could happen is next summer, and that’s the goal.
“I hope (next summer involves me) playing baseball,” Soroka said.
About the Author
Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com