The Braves hope Mike Soroka - fingers crossed - will return soon

052722 Atlanta: Bally Sports Southeast broadcasters Chip Caray, center left, and Jeff Francoeur, center right, interview Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Soroka, center, as they broadcast the Atlanta Braves vs Miami Marlins game from the right field stands in front of the Coors Light Chop House at Truist Park Friday, May 27, 2022, in Atlanta. The broadcast was moved from the press box and promoted as, “Baseball from the Bleachers.” (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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052722 Atlanta: Bally Sports Southeast broadcasters Chip Caray, center left, and Jeff Francoeur, center right, interview Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Soroka, center, as they broadcast the Atlanta Braves vs Miami Marlins game from the right field stands in front of the Coors Light Chop House at Truist Park Friday, May 27, 2022, in Atlanta. The broadcast was moved from the press box and promoted as, “Baseball from the Bleachers.” (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The Braves hope to have Mike Soroka back this summer. They hoped as much last summer. Of their 634 regular-season and playoff games since 2017, Soroka has started 35. That’s 5.5%.

That the Braves have won four consecutive National League East titles and five playoff series with Soroka having worked so little is beyond belief. When you think of him now, your first thought is that he would eradicate this team’s need for a fifth starter. Then you realize how ludicrous that sounds. When healthy, he’s a top-of-the-rotation guy.

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Max Fried has become a great pitcher. His career ERA is 3.31. Charlie Morton has been a very good pitcher. His career ERA is 4.04. Soroka’s ERA is 2.86. In his only full season, he made the All-Star team and finished sixth in Cy Young voting.

Having Soroka take a regular turn would lift this rotation to a place it hasn’t been since the halcyon days of Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Millwood/Neagle. Or Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Avery/Mercker. Take your pick. Without Soroka, Braves won a World Series they didn’t figure to win. With him, they wouldn’t have started Dylan Lee and Tucker Davidson in Games 4 and 5 of a Fall Classic. (To be fair, the Braves split those games.)

This assumes Soroka is hale, which lately he hasn’t been. He was shuttered for the remainder of the 2018 season after five starts, two of them superb, because of shoulder discomfort. The Braves were concerned – elbows are easy to fix, shoulders less so – but he returned in 2019 and was tremendous. He tore an Achilles tendon in his third start of the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He tore it again last year. Good grief.

When he first ruptured his right Achilles, the Braves’ reaction was, “Better a leg than an arm.” He worked two innings in the final exhibition game of 2021 and looked as good as someone coming off a major injury can look. Then he reported a funny feeling in the same leg. Only through exploratory surgery was it learned that Soroka’s body had rejected the sutures used in the first surgery.

New sutures were threaded. That was in May. By June, Soroka was again in rehab and the Braves – even after manager Brian Snitker suggested the pitcher was done for the season – felt reasonably confident he’d be available come August. He re-tore the same tendon while entering the Truist Park clubhouse for, of all things, a rehab session.

It has been so long since Soroka pitched that the memory of how good he is might have faded. His only playoff start was dominant – seven innings, two hits, one run, seven strikeouts, no walks. This came on an October Saturday when the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright, once a Braves’ draftee, was just as good. The Braves won at the end – Dansby Swanson doubled off Carlos Martinez with two out in the ninth – to move within a game of the NL Championship Series.

The Braves believe they should have reached a World Series two seasons before they did. In 2019, wild-card Washington upset the 106-win Dodgers. Had the Braves not lost a Game 4 lead against St. Louis – Game 5 was gone in that 11-run first inning – they’d have held the home-field edge against the Nationals, against whom they’d gone 11-8.

But enough about that. Soroka has thrown bullpen sessions at Truist Park. He looked fine. His fastball was timed in the low-to-mid 90s. The plan is for him to face hitters at the Braves’ Florida complex, then make rehab starts in the minors. Something would have to go wrong for him not to be on the big-league roster by August. He has had such rotten luck that the Braves don’t want to jinx anything by expressing great expectations.

That said, Soroka isn’t just a promising arm. Of all the pitchers collected in the Braves’ rebuild – this includes Fried, Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson – Soroka remains the most gifted. His 2019 season showed as much. He finished third among National League pitchers in Baseball-Reference WAR (wins above replacement). Ahead of him: Jacob deGrom and Sonny Gray. Behind him: Jack Flaherty, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer.

Soroka has logged 13-2/3 innings since 2019. That’s the bad part. The good is that he’s 24 and hasn’t, at least arm-wise, been worn to a frazzle. He could change the look of a franchise that just won the World Series. Yes, that’s saying a lot. But he’s that good.