Mike Soroka demonstrated Wednesday why so many believe him to be a pitching savant.
The right-hander had a shoulder issue interrupt his roster bid in spring training, but now beyond his ailments, he’s illustrating why he’s a popular pick to be best amongst the Braves’ deep pitching crop.
In his second major-league game of the season, Soroka glided through the Reds lineup, avoiding the perils of hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park in the Braves’ 3-1 win. He scattered five hits and one run over 5-1/3 innings.
“I had a good feel for (my breaking ball),” Soroka said. “I had a good feel for the strike zone. I didn’t miss too many over the plate when we needed to. We found what was working early on and went with it.”
A bonus: the combination of Josh Tomlin, Luke Jackson, Dan Winkler and A.J. Minter kept the Reds scoreless the remainder of the night. But the focal point was another encouraging start from Soroka, who tossed five innings, allowing one run, in his first start of the season five days ago.
Still 21 years young, Soroka is commonly lauded for his maturity and composure. He demonstrated his pinpoint command, painting corners and resisting the walk-fest that’s plagued other Braves pitchers. Soroka issued just one base on balls – to leadoff man Joey Votto in the first inning – before he lost steam and walked a pair in his final frame.
Speaking of the opening inning, it required Soroka navigate danger. Votto’s walk was followed by back-to-back singles, which tied the game at one. Soroka responded by coaxing Yasiel Puig into chasing a slider, doing the same to Derek Dietrich and retiring Tucker Barnhart on an innocent grounder.
“I thought he was phenomenal,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “He had them hitting balls off the end of the bat. We had them (generating) a lot of soft contact tonight. He was in total control from pitch one. And after the first inning – we threw a lot of four-seamers the first inning – the two-seamer was there and we stayed with it the rest of the game.”
He faced no resistance from the next five Reds until Jesse Winker and Puig had two-out singles. Soroka again struck out Dietrich to escape. After a perfect fourth and fifth, Soroka allowed a Puig single and walked Dietrich with one down in the sixth.
At 101 pitches, Soroka stayed in following a mound conference. He recorded an out but walked Phillip Ervin, ending his night. Tomlin threw one pitch to escape the bases-loaded jam, protecting the Braves’ 2-1 lead.
“I told him after I took him out, ‘I’m really glad you got to experience that right there,’” manager Brian Snitker said. “He was trying to get out of that inning. He kept trying to make pitches. That was big – Josh, Wink, all of them in a game like that at this park. It was good to see the (bullpen) bounce back.”
That Snitker trusted Soroka to pitch in that spot was a vote of confidence. Soroka himself said little during the mound visit, but McCann was adamant: We can get out of this. And even though Soroka didn’t get that third out, it was a significant moment in his growth.
“I said ‘We got it,’ ” McCann recalled. “I said ‘He’s got enough left in the tank.’ He’s been in control from pitch one. I really liked the matchup coming up (against Barnhart) and when you pitch that good, that’s something where he deserved that hitter. And he got it. That’s the thing. You pitch like that, you attack the zone and you keep guys off balance, that was his game to lose.”
Soroka added, when asked about working with McCann: “It was pretty special. You see the amount of research he does before games. It shows. The one pitch I shook off today was actually the line drive to the track (laughs). So not to say I wouldn’t do it again, but he’s done his homework. It’s really easy to have confidence in what he’s putting down.”
Soroka didn’t realize he threw 109 pitches until he exited. It was by far his highest total of the season, and he was satisfied with how he felt physically after the workload. His seven strikeouts tied a career-best.
“He’s mature,” McCann said. “I’ve been saying this since I got here, I was just shocked with how many arms they have. Not just arms that can pitch in the big leagues, but arms that can pitch at the top of the rotation. In a couple years down the road, this will be a young staff with a chance to be great. This organization is set up for a long time. Not just the present, but the future is beyond bright.”
The Braves close out their series in Cincinnati on Thursday against Luis Castillo, who’s second among National League ERA leaders (1.47). Julio Teheran, who’s allowed seven runs in his 11 innings in Cincinnati, starts for the Braves.
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