Recovering Braves pitchers Darren O’Day and Mike Soroka feel healthy with spring training less than a month away.
O’Day should be considered a notable addition. While injured, he was included in the Kevin Gausman trade last July, allowing the Orioles to shed salary and the Braves to acquire Gausman at a reduced rate. But a healthy O’Day is more than a throw-in; he could potentially be the best pitcher in the bullpen.
Since 2010, O’Day has been one of the American League’s premier relievers. He peaked in 2014-15, when he produced ERAs of 1.70 and 1.52 in 68 appearances each. In 2017, his last full season, he earned a 3.43 mark over 64 games. He produced a 3.60 ERA over 20 appearances with Baltimore before a hamstring injury ended his season.
The time O’Day spent in last year’s clubhouse wasn’t for naught. He learned his teammates, established relationships and grew more familiar with the organization. O’Day had been with the Orioles for 6-1/2 seasons.
“Everyone was wondering who the guy in the corner was eating all the food,” O’Day said. “That was me. But it was really cool. I’m grateful for being around the team. … To get to know the guys. I got to sit in the bullpen and see how guys prepare for games, what motivates each one, how they get ready.
“The talent level here is incredible. Just meeting the young guys and hearing baseball people I respect talk about them, how good they’re going to be, it’s made an impression on me.”
The bullpen could use a boost, but the Braves haven’t yet seen value in the reliever market. Even during these free-agent dark days, relievers are cashing in. O’Day was a forward-thinking move, one in which the Braves knew could pay off in 2019.
“A guy with experience, a guy who’ll bring life to the bullpen,” fellow reliever A.J. Minter said. “He’ll make everyone comfortable. Not going to hound you, (he will) make you feel part of the team. He’s going to be huge for us.”
Meanwhile, Soroka was limited to five major-league starts last season because of shoulder inflammation. The Canadian righty often is regarded as the franchise’s best pitching prospect, and he’ll enter camp a favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Soroka threw a few bullpen sessions in instructional league in October, going 100 percent. Early feedback indicated it was successful, and the Braves anticipated he wouldn’t be restricted in March. The team will still handle him carefully, especially knowing this would be his first full major-league season, but it’s evident a healthy Soroka will be a key part of the club.
“He feels good, he’s healthy, but he did miss a significant amount of time,” manager Brian Snitker said. “So we’re going to be cognizant of that. We don’t need him April 1. We want to make sure we have him later in the year, too, and get him through a full season.”
Wise beyond his years, Soroka impressed everyone around the organization and likely was staying in the rotation through the rest of season. When he went down, other youngsters – Touki Toussaint among them – stepped up to fill the void. Soroka will now compete with those players for a concrete role behind Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran.
“To see your friends (contribute in the majors) is always special,” Soroka said. “It’s definitely a little bittersweet being in Orlando (at the Braves’ facilities) and watching on TV. You want to be there. You want to be helping the club. But I think … when you go down like that and come back, it makes it that much sweeter. So that’s something I’m trying to do, and hopefully I can help the club out like they did this next year.”