Mike Soroka is a splendid young pitcher. That’s when he’s healthy enough to pitch, which hasn’t been often. This isn’t to suggest that he’s at fault for getting hurt – some things just happen, especially to pitchers – but the Braves must surely be concerned that their most gifted pitcher has, since 2018, made 37 regular-season starts for the big-league club.
Julio Teheran, by way of contrast, averaged 31.7 starts over his final seven seasons here. They weren’t all great, though many were very good, and the bottom line was that he was always available to take the ball every fifth day.
Since working that epic playoff National League Division Series Game 3 against Adam Wainwright in St. Louis on Oct. 6, 2019, Soroka has taken the ball three times.
He tore his Achilles on Aug. 3 last summer. That’s a bad injury, but the Braves believed he would recover without undue difficulty. Not to be crass, but baseball teams fret much less when the part of a pitcher that’s ailing isn’t his throwing arm. Then Soroka developed a sore shoulder in spring training, and shoulders are the part of the arm that scare clubs the most. Tommy John surgery to fix an elbow is almost a rite of passage for a young pitcher. No such easy remedy exists for shoulders.
Braves manager Brian Snitker announced Wednesday that Soroka will have exploratory surgery, though not on his shoulder. On his right Achilles, the one the Braves believed not so long ago had all but healed. Exploratory surgery means, “We’re going to cut into you to see if we can tell what’s wrong – because right now we don’t know.”
We say again: Soroka is the most important commodity under a Braves contract. For good reason, this organization had reason to believe it had drafted and developed a true No. 1 starter, which not every club – even some good ones – has. When healthy, Soroka is good enough to make you call back the years and recall the young John Smoltz, the young Steve Avery and … well, among Braves of past decades, that’s about it. (Tom Glavine is a Hall of Fame pitcher, but he was heavier on guile than stuff.)
At 21, Soroka already had it all – big fastball, wicked sinker, ideal temperament. Said Snitker in 2019: “It’s like he doesn’t have a heartbeat.”
Chipper Jones, Hall of Famer, likened Soroka to Greg Maddux and Roy Halladay, both Hall of Famers, and said of that sinker: “He throws bowling balls. He’s legit.”
Said Snitker: “As long as we can keep him upright and can get him on that white thing out there, we’ll be OK.”
That white thing is the pitching rubber. Soroka worked only two preseason innings, those coming on the final day of spring training. He began the season on the injured list. He recently was moved to the 60-day IL, which never is a good sign. Now he’s about to have surgery so doctors can see what’s up. Said Snitker: “(He) had some discomfort in his Achilles, just when he was walking around.”
Yes, this is a shame. It’s also why every team holds its breath regarding every promising pitcher. It’s entirely possible that, 20 years from now, we’ll look back on 2020 and 2021 as blips in the career that carried Mike Soroka to Cooperstown. Right now, there’s no way of knowing when he’ll start another game.