It was not the lousiest thing in the world to happen this year, not by many country miles. But when Mike Soroka went down in the third inning Monday, surely knowing that the little explosion in his right heel was a season-killer, just call it the continuation of a dismal trend.
Relative to baseball, his torn Achilles was ruinous. Now there’s another hole in the Braves’ starting rotation, only this one is at the top, where the young ace used to roost. It is just about the worst thing that could happen to a team aspiring to make something memorable of a pieced-together, Frankenstein’s monster of a season.
So fragile is the Braves’ rotation – wasn’t that supposed to be a strength? – that at this point there is no envisioning the Braves going anywhere really nice without Soroka. Especially in the 60-game version of MLB, where there is so little to time or ability to adjust to his loss.
I know I’m not the only one out there whose initial thought upon seeing Soroka being helped off the field in obvious distress was: Goodbye 2020 season. And we’ll get around to the good riddance part later.
If there had been a crowd at Truist Park on Monday night, it would have gone so silent at the moment of Soroka’s injury that you couldn’t have told them from the cardboard cutouts now occupying the seats. A hush fell over TV rooms throughout the state. Followed, no doubt, by words that dare not be repeated here.
On a play as routine as grits, on the day before his 23rd birthday, Soroka had all his great promise put on indefinite hold. How many times has he drilled this move in his life – the ball is grounded to the right side, you break that way to cover first. Only this time, as he pushed off on his right leg, it stretched to a breaking point.
He’s not the first Braves pitcher that play has pained. Closer Jason Grilli tore his Achilles trying to cover first in 2015. It remains, though, a freakish thing for the pitching profession.
And there it was, a reminder that teams still can be undone by forces other than COVID-19. This was an old-fashioned, pre-virus kind of sporting disaster.
Consider that he was an All-Star in his first full season, 15-5 with a 2.72 ERA in just 36 career starts. He went into Monday’s second match-up of the year with the great Met Jacob deGrom as something of a peer. So, yes, Soroka has earned a spot in most painful Achilles injuries in Atlanta history. Right there with Dominique Wilkins (1992) and Falcons safeties Ricardo Allen (2018) and Keanu Neal (2019).
As manager, it is Brian Snitker’s job to manage distress, too.
He began the process immediately after the game Monday night, but was less than convincing.
“Somebody else is going to get an opportunity. Things like that happen,” he said. “These guys will regroup here. And somebody’s going to get an opportunity to do something really good. We’ve got some young guys who are going to continue to get better and we’ll be fine.”
Who might that be?
Bring back the exiled Mike Foltynewicz, just days after the Braves witnessed his reduced velocity and one rickety outing in 2020 and banished him? Yeah, sure, his head’s in a good place.
Rush prospect Ian Anderson into the breach, when all along Braves people have been saying that with just five games of Triple-A experience, he wasn’t quite ripe yet? Actually, that kinda feels like the best option. Let him get some of the trauma out of the way now.
Bring up Bryce Wilson, who has yet to open eyes? New guy Tyler Matzek has 24 starts with Colorado way back in 2014 and ’15 before becoming a closer with the independent league Texas AirHogs? Could be a great story, if Disney took over the script for 2020. And please do.
Is there a temp service out there with a starter with three different quality pitches and no other takers in a season when almost every team thinks itself a contender for one of the additional playoff spots?
Credit: Atlanta Braves
First baseman and leader Freddie Freeman echoed Snitker’s call for the next dude up to surprise us. “Someone’s going to get a great opportunity to fill a role and have a great season,” Freeman said. Starting, he said, with Soroka’s good friend Max Fried, your Tuesday starter. But there are so many other days, and so few proven arms. And whatever happened to Cole Hamels? For that matter, are we missing Julio Teheran yet?
Freeman did have a little something to say to the grim realists out there, as well.
“To sum it up, this night just sucks. It really does,” he said.
“When you lose, in my mind, one of the top pitching arms in this entire game for the whole season, it’s pretty tough. ... It just sucks, there is no sugar-coating this night.”
Soroka likely is in for a long recovery and a strenuous rehab on what is the push-off foot in his delivery. His youth is his best friend now. “We all know he’s going to come back stronger and better.” Freeman said encouragingly.
Hard to say the same for the Braves here in the short term.