Soroka wins debut, gives Braves something else to be excited about

Braves manager praises Mike Soroka’s debut performance in a strong six innings for the win against the Mets Tuesday night in New York. (Video by David O’Brien)

If having his dad, his longtime pitching coach and a Canadian flag in the stands weren’t enough to take the edge off for Mike Soroka in the 20-year-old Braves pitcher’s debut Tuesday night at Citi Field, then sending eight batters to the plate including Soroka in Atlanta’s three-run first inning was.

“I was actually telling the guys it was kind of nice to get that at-bat in the first (inning), because I got the jitters out of the way there,” Soroka said of batting in his debut before he threw a pitch, “and it just kind of felt like another inning after that. Got out there, executed pitch one and then went from there.”

Soroka, at 20 the youngest pitcher in the major leagues, worked six efficient and effective innings, out-pitching Noah “Thor” Syndergaard and getting the decision in a 3-2 win.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ve really processed it yet, I don’t think it’s quite hit me,” Soroka said after allowing six hits, one run and no walks with five strikeouts in six innings against a Mets team that saw its lead in the National League East standings shrink to a half-game over the Braves (17-11).

“But it’s truly amazing to be up here with this team. They’ve been a really fun team to watch down in Gwinnett for the past month. I mean, hopefully to get up here and contribute to some wins is pretty special.”

Soroka was the first starting pitcher 20 or younger to get a win in his big-league debut since Scott Kazmir in in 2004.

“The whole thing -- stuff, composure, how he went about it – was all very impressive,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It was a good night. A real nice debut.”

Called up from Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday on the Braves’ day off, Soroka looked at ease and in control Tuesday, spotting his mid-90 mph fastballs, commanding sharp sinkers and sliders.

Meanwhile, the Braves scored three runs in the first inning before Syndergaard recorded his first out.

The first high school player from the 2015 draft to make it to the majors, Soroka threw 58 strikes in 80 pitches and gave up only three hits to Mets other than Yoenis Cespedes, whose one out homer in the sixth inning accounted for the only run against the 6-foot-5 right-hander.

"He threw a lot of strikes and anytime you keep the count in your favor you're going to pitch good,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “I looked up there one time and I think he had thrown 27 strikes in 35 pitches. If you do that you're going to have success."

Mets shortstop Amed Rosario said through a translator, “(Soroka) threw a great game. You've got to give him credit.”

Soroka gave up consecutive two-out singles to Cespedes and Jay Bruce in the first inning before getting Todd Frazier to ground into a force out. He struck out four of six during perfect second and third innings, then gave up a pair of singles in the fourth before inducing a grounder from Adrian Gonzalez for an inning-ending double play on some fine work by second baseman Ozzie Albies and shortstop Dansby Swanson.

Soroka’s dad, Gary, and his dad’s girlfriend traveled to New York for the game. So did his sister, other family and friends and Chris Reitsma, a former Braves reliever, Canadian Junior National pitching coach, and a guy who’s had a profound influence on Soroka’s career for nearly a decade.

Since Soroka was scratched from his Triple-A start Sunday to be on standby if the Braves needed him, he wasn’t certain when or even if he’d make his debut until Monday.

“It’s a little nuts, it’s a little hard waiting like that,” he said. “But to finally get that call was still pretty amazing, to find out you’re going to come join the team in New York, too, is pretty awesome. It’s been a blur the past couple of days and I’m really glad my dad and his girlfriend made it down. They’ve been through everything (with him), along with my sister. A lot of family and friends and am really looking forward to spending time with them later. ...

“(Reitsma) is another one, been my pitching coach since I was 12 or 13. I don’t think when we started we were even envisioning something like this. It kind of just took off. He’s been there to talk to about everything – baseball, life, whatever it may be, he’s been through everything. So, very fortunate to have him by my side.”

At 20 years and 270 days, Soroka was the youngest Braves pitcher to make his debut in a start since Julio Teheran did it at 20 years, 100 days on May 7, 2011.

But at no point during Tuesday’s game did this look like a kid merely getting his feet wet. The Braves haven’t said if Soroka will make another start, but he was so sharp and poised that it might be difficult to send him back to Triple-A without at least giving the home fans a chance to see him make a start this weekend in Atlanta.

“He was great,” Swanson said. “Honestly, that’s kind of what we expected. He did it in the spring. That’s kind of just everything I’ve ever known and heard about him, so I’m not surprised…. I couldn’t be more proud of him. Just the one thing that we kind of told him is just, do you, pitch how you do and trust in your ability. He threw the ball well tonight and we’re happy for him.”

The Braves had the three youngest players in the majors all in their lineup Tuesday night, with Soroka falling age-wise between Ronald Acuna, the 20-year-old outfield phenom called up last week from Triple-A, and Albies, who’s played like an MVP candidate in the first month of his first full season. Soroka was teammates with Acuna last summer at Double-A Mississippi and again early this season at Gwinnett, and he’s played with Albies at spring training.

Albies led off the first inning with a single and Acuna followed with a double before Freddie Freeman doubled to score both. Nick Markakis singled in another run to stake Soroka to a 3-0 lead. Soroka, batting eighth in the order, eventually grounded out to end the inning.

“Guys had aggressive approaches,” Snitker said of jumping to the quick lead on Syndergaard (2-1). You know what you’re in for when you face him – he’s on the attack all the time, and guys just put good swings on him and didn’t miss. Just a pretty aggressive approach. It was good to obviously jump out, because you need to get a guy like that early, because they’re going to settle in. He kept throwing up zeroes after that and Soroka did a good job holding them at bay.”

Callaway said, “You put Acuna in there with Albies and all those guys, and then Freeman can just flat out hit. I don't care who you are pitching. They're pretty good and they play the game the right way. They're a really good team."

Having Albies and Acuna play a big part in Soroka’s debut win seemed appropriate. All three are big parts of the Braves rebuilding project, as is Swanson.

“It’s what we’ve been working towards here,” Snitker said. “Been hearing about these guys, now you finally get them up here and it’s exciting, it’s fun. It’s energizing for everybody to have the young guys. And they’re all (doing it right) – how they carry themselves, how they go about it, it gives you a lot of confidence and it’s a good feeling to have them young guys.”