Soroka’s streak puts him in elite company

That pretty much defines how dominant the Braves rookie has been.

He has allowed one earned run or fewer in each of his first eight starts this season, becoming just the third MLB pitcher since 1920 to begin a season with such a streak. Dating to last year, Soroka has allowed one earned run or none in 11 of 13 starts, making him the only pitcher since 1913 (when earned runs became an official statistic) to open a major-league career that way.

Soroka’s ERA inched up from 1.01 to 1.07 with Saturday’s performance against the Cardinals. According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the third lowest ERA in a 21-year-old-or-under pitcher’s first eight starts of a season, bettered only by Fernando Valenzuela’s 0.50 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 and Vida Blue’s 1.02 with the  Oakland Athletics in 1971.

Yes, both Valenzuela and Blue won Cy Young awards in those seasons.

“I try not to even look at that, quite honestly,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the streaks and stats Soroka is assembling. “I just know he’s pitching real good.

“I watch him out there, how he just keeps pitching. I feel like his breaking ball is getting better. The changeup is a really good pitch for him. And he’s got that sinker. He can put the thing on the ground,” Snitker said. “It’s fun to watch. I know guys love playing behind him. As an infielder playing behind that, or an outfielder, you’re expecting every ball to be put in play because he throws strikes.”

Soroka walked only one Saturday and got through the first three innings on just 23 pitches (18 strikes and five balls).

“Just being in the zone, even if it is too much in the zone, I’ll take that over nibbling and falling behind these guys,” Soroka said. “I’m not doing myself any service if I’m always 1-0, 2-1 (in the count), you know.”

Soroka showed a couple of other traits that have fueled his streak: keeping the ball in the park and minimizing damage.

He didn’t allow a home run and has allowed only one all season. All five of the hits against him Saturday were singles.

In the fifth inning, after two singles and a hit-by-pitch produced one St. Louis run, he limited the damage by getting an inning-ending ground ball to strand two baserunners. Opponents are hitting .093 against him this season with runners in scoring position.

“Ultimately the damage (is) in big innings,” Soroka said. “That’s where it is a lot of times nowadays, that three-run bomb to open it up. (I’m) just trying to limit that and make good pitches when there are guys on, and hopefully balls are put in play to the right guys.”

As his streak of consecutive starts without allowing more than one earned run captures attention around baseball, Soroka insists he’s not thinking about the historical implications.

“It’s just a reset every single day,” he said. “I think (the key is) just being able to look every five days and say, ‘All right, who do I got next? Let’s go. Let’s get our team a chance to win.’ ”

The Braves didn't get a win to show for Soroka's latest effort. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning with the Braves leading 3-2 (one of the runs scored against him was unearned). The lead turned into a 6-3 loss when the Cardinals rallied for four runs against reliever Dan Winkler in the eighth inning, including a three-run pinch-hit homer by Jedd Gyorko on a pitch that Winkler described as "a cutter that didn't move, right down the middle."