Braves manager Brian Snitker saw an extra-motivated Mike Soroka in the hotel lobby Friday afternoon, just hours before he’d take the mound against Max Scherzer. The rookie, who’s a first-time All-Star and likely top-five Cy Young finisher, was getting a second chance to outduel the standard at his craft.
On the heels of giving up five homers in two starts this month, Soroka delivered his signature performance of the second half in front of a sellout crowd at Nationals Park. He outlasted and outdid baseball’s best pitcher, Scherzer, in the Braves’ 5-0 win.
Soroka operated with his usual elegance. The beauty of his artistry that’d been missing in his past two starts, when he’d given up seven runs in 11 innings. He only fanned four, but he had one of the National League’s best offenses – a group that tagged him for four runs in six innings last time out – completely off-balance the entirety of the evening.
“It was nice to get out, Friday night lights, and get the adrenaline going,” Soroka said. “Anytime you get a chance to rematch after an outing that didn’t go your way the first time, I think you have a little more incentive the second time around. So it’s nice to put that to use.”
“I talked to him in the hotel today and he was excited about this matchup,” Snitker said. “That’s a good sign. I said before, he’s probably excited about (Friday) and getting back out there. He was really good.”
Perhaps it was Soroka’s best start of the season, though he’s had many memorable displays, including his eight-inning masterpieces in San Francisco and Miami. But under the circumstances, with the Nationals starting their three-time Cy Young winner and battling to protect a wild-card spot, this showing might’ve been his most meaningful.
Scherzer went just five innings, allowing three runs and exiting in a three-run hole. The 22-year-old Soroka, meanwhile, allowed one hit over six scoreless innings. He walked three, including consecutive hitters to begin the second, but worked around his mistakes.
“Soroka threw as good as I’ve seen him throw, especially against a lineup like that,” said Nick Markakis, who had two hits and an RBI in his first game back from a fractured wrist. “He had command of all his pitches, throwing them at any count. He was working ahead of hitters just like he always does. It was fun to watch.”
The Canadian righty lowered his ERA to 2.57, the second-lowest mark in MLB (Hyun-Jin Ryu’s 2.45 is lowest). He entered the game with the fourth-lowest ERA, passing Scherzer and Justin Verlander with his six scoreless frames.
His road results are even more impressive. Soroka has a 1.35 ERA away from SunTrust Park, by far the best in the majors. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, only two qualified starters have produced a better road ERA: Greg Maddux’s 1.12 in 1995 and Roger Clemens’ 1.32 in 2005, according to research done by MLB stats expert Sarah Langs.
“It’s just one of those things where I try to keep that out of mind coming into starts,” Soroka said. “And understanding that the only reason we’re there is because of execution. That’s the only thing that’s going to keep us there. So it’s one of those things you don’t intend on or don’t really think about. I guess it’s putting the adrenaline of a new place, an unfamiliar place, to use.”
A subplot of the second half has centered on Soroka’s innings, which have reached 166-2/3. He’s maintained he’s at full strength physically, and his performance has reflected it.
That’s a great sign for the Braves, who will likely turn to their untested rookie to start Game 1 of the NLDS. Speaking of, the Braves’ trimmed their magic number to six with the win, drawing closer to a second consecutive NL East title.
Mike Foltynewicz will start Saturday, his first appearance at Nationals Park since a meltdown - eight runs in four innings - led to his jettisoning to Triple-A. Washington will start Austin Voth, whom the Braves defeated in a brief outing last week.
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