Mike Soroka makes second debut in Canada return

Mike Soroka first took the Rogers Centre mound when he was 15. Only five years later, he’ll do so again this time as a major leaguer.

The Braves play a two-game series in Toronto on Tuesday and Wednesday, and their top pitching prospect will start game one.

Soroka hails from Calgary, in western Canada. But his best and earliest memories at a professional ballpark were in Toronto.

“Even though I’m from the other side of Canada, it’s the one team you grew up watching,” Soroka said. “It’ll be pretty special.”

He went to his first MLB game with his father after they won free tickets in a raffle. They saw the Blue Jays face the Red Sox.

The Blue Jays’ academy hosts various amateur tournaments, two of which Soroka competed in at Rogers Centre. His first time on a major-league mound was in Toronto.

“It’s almost like a second debut of sorts,” he said. “Just get out there, knowing that a bunch of friends are going to be coming there, a lot of friends who’ve been Blue Jays fans for a long time too. … I’m just going to be familiar with the Rogers Center, so that’s going to be cool too. And I’ll be out there on a mound I’ve been on before too, so that’s pretty awesome.”

It’ll be difficult to replicate fellow Canadian James Paxton’s performance in Toronto. The Mariners lefty tossed a no-hitter May 8 in a 5-0 win.

"Of all places, to do it in Toronto, it's pretty amazing," Paxton said after the game.

Soroka doesn’t know Paxton personally, perhaps meeting him at a Baseball Canada banquet in years past. He remembered what Paxton did, and he understood how meaningful it must’ve been.

Now it’s his turn. And there won’t be a shortage of friends and family in the crowd (Soroka wouldn’t begin to guess a number).

But the 20-year-old doesn’t anticipate nerves or extra excitement. After all, it’s only his fifth major-league start. He’s still figuring out what it takes to succeed against the best hitters in the world.

“There’s a certain amount of amped up you can have in the big leagues,” Soroka said. “I don’t think I’ll be more any more amped up than I was my last four, especially because it’s a new thing right now. I don’t think I’m running short on adrenaline.”

He’s not running short of momentum either. Soroka’s coming off his best outing in the bigs, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finishing with 6-1/3 shut-out innings against the Mets.

New York was the first team to face him twice after they were shut out in six innings during his first career start.

Soroka wasn’t satisfied. He felt he could’ve been more efficient throughout the night despite exiting with the fewest number of pitches in his young career (74).

“For the most part, I really wasn’t (throwing) strike one,” he said. “I think I could’ve been ahead of more hitters. But 2-0, 2-1, we were feeling change-up, sliders. That’s where the sinker would play up. We got lots of earlier outs that way. So just being able to do that was huge for that game, and it’s going to be something to carry into the next one for sure.”

Soroka’s allowed one or no runs in three of his four starts, the lone blemish to a veteran Giants team that pounded every Braves pitcher in a three-game sweep.

Tuesday marks his latest ‘most important’ start, but it’s the first in his native country. He and the Braves will hope his second debut goes as well as his first.