Soroka provides perfect spring send-off for Braves

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Soroka delivers in the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Fort Myers, Fla. Soroka was making his first appearance of the spring after tearing his Achilles tendon last August. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Soroka delivers in the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Fort Myers, Fla. Soroka was making his first appearance of the spring after tearing his Achilles tendon last August. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

You have your old reliable standards. Like bloomin’ azaleas and flowering dogwood. And the symphony of birdsong. But can there be a more uplifting sign of spring than a pleasant young Canadian – is there any other kind? – taking the mound in Florida, back to doing what he was born to do and getting through two innings without a grimace or a care?

The Braves broke camp Tuesday in the most hopeful way possible. Normally, when you read any story that begins, “A man in Florida today. . .” the rest is going to involve something stupid and bizarre and probably include an alligator and a saddle. But this is the glorious exception.

For the final act of a most uneventful spring training, the Braves sent Mike Soroka into a game for the first time since his Achilles went zing last Aug. 3. He didn’t exactly look real-game-ready against Boston’s mop-up players - he remains weeks away from that - but he can be forgiven one long home run and a few pitches that sailed or skittered in the dirt.

“Made some good pitches, a couple not so good pitches and kind of moved on from there,” Soroka said.

Through second-hand reports of his back-field activities, we’ve heard that Soroka has been making terrific progress after his surgical repair. All quite believable, given that he goes about his profession with an astronaut’s earnestness. No one was expecting his recovery to be set back by a freak rollerblading incident or early morning nightclub slip-and-fall.

But there it was all out in the open Tuesday: He walks; he talks; he strikes out the first Red Stocking he faces on three pitches; he exits with a patented double-play ground ball.

“Kind of nice I got into trouble a little bit. I had to keep making pitches, like what you’ll have to do during the season. That’s something you don’t feel the same in (simulated) games,” Soroka said.

His rehab obviously has not included a barber – it was a much more luxuriously hirsute Soroka Tuesday than the 2020 model. But all the extra work done on his mobility and his peace of mind was obvious. On a couple balls hit to the right side – reminiscent of the play on which he was injured – Soroka popped off the mound and moved to cover first without hesitation. That mental block, if it ever existed, is gone.

“You’ve done it so many times already (in practice) that there is no thought. That actually was one of the easier movements to do,” he said.

Soroka’s third start of the COVID-delayed season was a bad day for the Braves. The Mets’ J.D. Davis hit a ball to the aforementioned right side, triggering a pitcher’s instinct to go cover something. Stupid instincts – just let Freddie Freeman handle everything hit that direction. Anyway, Soroka lunged toward first, pulled up, took a few hobbling steps and went to both knees on the infield. It was obvious in a flash: A frontline starter – the opening-day starter, no less – was lost for the rest of the year.

Overcoming that day, moving on, finding enough in other young starters to carry the Braves on to the NLCS was one of the stirring aspects of 2020.

And going into 2021, it says much about the Braves just how stultifyingly bland this spring was. That made Soroka’s appearance at the end all the more notable, there being so little else that passed for newsworthy the last month.

Good, solid teams require no springtime drama. They save all the tension for the real thing.

There is little room for surprise on the well-stocked team. What qualified for the Braves this spring is not worth a single arched eyebrow: That Pablo Sandoval earned a wide seat on the bench; that we’re going to have to learn how to spell Ehire Adrianza, he being one of three non-roster invitees that cracked a division champion’s roster; that they seem content with a pretty good bullpen array; that no one is going to require counseling if Freeman hits under .200 in March?

There are questions still to answer, of course. Does the bench have enough pop? How will that bullpen shake out over the long course of a real season? Who is the real Ian Anderson – postseason wonder or the guy who gave up three quick home runs in his last spring start?

Usually spring comes with one good trauma. But the best part of Braves training is how no one got hurt; no one got arrested; no one got in a wreck on the way to a morning workout. This has been a championship kind of spring, one prolonged socially distanced day at the beach. Almost too easy.

“Talking with some of the coaches, we noticed how quick (spring training) has gone. That’s a good thing if it feels like we just got here – and it does,” manager Brian Snitker said before leaving Florida.

“Uneventful is good. This was a good, consistent spring. The quality of work was really good. Now it’s time to play the games and see what happens.”

And it all culminated with the best kind of spring signage, better even than all the south’s new flowers. Because who can be allergic to witnessing a front-line pitcher take a healthy step back to where he belongs?

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