Steve Hummer: Another cruel curve for Mike Soroka, Braves

Braves starter pitcher Mike Soroka back in spring, when his return seemed near. He's working with pitching coach Rick Kranitz in this photo.   Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Braves starter pitcher Mike Soroka back in spring, when his return seemed near. He's working with pitching coach Rick Kranitz in this photo. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Genial in the way Canadians can be, committed as potentially great players must be, light-hearted and unburdened by self-importance as the best people tend to be, Mike Soroka is a favorite son of the Braves clubhouse.

ExploreBraves lose to Reds Saturday

Just as he would be on the field. If only cruel fortune would lighten up and allow it.

When Braves manager Brian Snitker spoke Saturday of the reaction to his 23-year-old pitcher’s latest setback, he required a very broad brush to cover the distress felt by his teammates.

“They’re all sick for him. They love the guy,” Snitker said. “He’s part of this club, a huge part of this club. A great teammate, everything you want a teammate to be.

“Organizationally everyone aches for him.”

Soroka merely was walking into the Braves clubhouse Thursday for a rehab session, his first day out of a boot since exploratory surgery on his repaired Achilles tendon. “He felt so good about where he was at the time. All signs were go,” Snitker said. Then Soroka felt the dreaded pop.

The first time he felt that was Aug. 3 against the Mets, when bounding off the mound to field a ground ball. This time he was just ambling in for another round of lonely rehab. Another tear on a tendon supposedly healed. This just isn’t supposed to happen.

Snitker called it “a weird thing.” Called it “an anomaly.” More like a sick joke. Injuries occur all the time – we grow numb to the migrations to and from the injured list. But this one just seems so unnecessarily mean.

In a Braves season weighted on the side of bad news, another low blow. If ever there was a sign that perhaps 2021 doesn’t have championship written all over it, that would be your young prospective top-of-the-rotation starter blowing out his heel just strolling into the clubhouse.

It’s not as if they were counting on Soroka, their ace in waiting, to swoop in and tow to solid ground a team that can’t quite seem to get traction. His recovery from his initial Achilles surgery was complicated, and shoulder issues this spring threw his return more into question. But now it is only natural to wonder if he’ll ever be able to flesh out his immense potential with the Braves.

He still is young. He still has time to rewrite the tragedies of anatomy. But here he teeters on edge of being one of those sad sports tales of a good player denied despite doing everything within his power the right way.

First it was shoulder problems that limited Soroka’s 2018 to a mere five starts.

His absences so frequent, it would be easy to misplace the memory of what we are missing out on here. Granted 29 starts in 2019, Soroka was an All Star before his 22nd birthday. He finished that year 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA.

Braves pitcher Mike Soroka (left) shakes hands with Ronald Acuna Jr. after going seven innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
Braves pitcher Mike Soroka (left) shakes hands with Ronald Acuna Jr. after going seven innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

In his one and only postseason start – in a just world he’d have maybe a half dozen on his resume by now – he beat St. Louis on the road in Game 3 of the NLDS, going seven innings and yielding just two hits and one run. He struck out seven, walked none and set a Braves postseason record by retiring 17 batters in a row between the second and seventh innings.

Said the pitcher he outdueled that day, Cards veteran Adam Wainwright: “He was as nasty as any pitcher I’ve faced in the postseason. Twenty-two years old, out there pitching on the big stage at a visiting park with 50,000 people cheering against you and a very tough lineup on our side. I was very impressed. I can’t be more impressed, actually.”

From the beginning, because of Soroka’s advanced maturity and the way he threw himself into his craft, he had a way of drawing quick respect from his elders.

The flintiest veteran of them all, Nick Markakis, said of Soroka early in ’19, “The first time you talk to him, you know. He just got it, just the way he talks, the way he approaches, the way he prepares for the game. Everything was above and beyond any 21-year-old pitcher that I’ve been able to play with in my career.”

So, if this setback knocks the wind out of the Braves a bit more than most, you’ll understand why.

Soroka’s manager is sounding the call of Reveille for his guy to start another round of surgery, healing and rehab, as any good manager would.

“I expect him to get back. This kid is determined. I would never bet against this guy. Ever. Ever,” Snitker said.

“He’s probably more determined than ever, as big a gut punch as this is. I see this kid coming back stronger than ever. He’s going to do everything possible. He’ll be smart about it. He’ll check the boxes and be back out there again pitching.”

It never was supposed to be this hard for someone this easy to like.

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