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.