NORTH PORT, Fla. — At least it wasn’t the shoulder, or the elbow, or the Achilles tendon. That was my thought when I heard the Braves shut down Michael Soroka soon after he showed up for spring training. A tight hamstring is nothing in comparison with all the other ailments that have prevented Soroka from pitching in the big leagues since 2020.
Still, it is something.
“It’s a kick in the groin,” Soroka said Tuesday at Braves camp.
As painful as that sounds, that probably would be preferable to yet another injury setback for Soroka.
Elbow soreness cut short Soroka’s Triple-A season in 2022. The one potential bright side was a longer offseason to get ready for spring camp. But the dark clouds of bad injury luck gathered over Soroka again on the night before he drove from Atlanta to Florida.
He said he took a hamstring stretch too far after a long day of workouts. Before that, Soroka was ready to report to camp and “show off” the results of his offseason work. Finally, he’d be reporting to spring training ready to work instead of rehabbing an injury.
Said Soroka: “Being able to go out there and run and float again and look like an athlete is the biggest thing I’m looking to show some of the spring staff, the training staff that have kind of been there through the tough times with me when they were watching me ‘crutch around’ all the time.”
He’s not on crutches, but Soroka said he probably will have to wait at least a couple of weeks before he can throw live batting practice. Soroka and the Braves said the injury is minor, but you never know with pitchers in general. It’s probably best to wait and see with Soroka in particular.
What’s certain is that Soroka is going to have less time to get ready for the start of the season. He’ll have fewer Grapefruit League appearances to show the Braves that he belongs in the rotation. While most of Soroka’s teammates go through the paces of spring training, he’s back to the familiar routine of finding a silver lining in an injury setback.
“Honestly, when it happened, I was pretty worried, pretty scared because I know sometimes hamstrings can be a little temperamental,” Soroka said. “But, fortunately, it’s turned around pretty quick. (It’s) pretty frustrating, especially (after) the early offseason to be able to get ready for this spring training.
“Coming down with that is not fun, but it’s how it goes. We’ll be moving forward.”
Here’s hoping Soroka won’t have to go backward again. I won’t say he deserves to be healthy because that’s not promised to anyone. Elite athletes who push their bodies inevitably suffer injuries. Soroka seems to be in good spirits. He’s also financially secure. The Braves will pay him $2.8 million this season regardless of how many innings he pitches.
But, man, it would be nice to see Soroka finally catch a break. I miss watching him pitch. I appreciate that Soroka has thrived in the power-pitching era by being a technician. In 2019, Soroka’s fastball topped out at about 92 mph, but he still produced dominant results (2.68 ERA over 29 starts) with excellent command of four pitches. He was a rookie with veteran savvy.
If it’s hard to let go of the idea that Soroka will regain that form, it’s because that form was so dang good, and he’s still only 25 years old. It’s easy to imagine Soroka finally getting healthy and performing like an ace again. The reality is that, until Soroka can stay healthy, the Braves can’t count on him to be even their No. 5 starter.
Soroka said he still has the goal of making the opening-day roster.
“The expectations for myself are always going to be the highest, understanding that wanting to be out there is exactly where I need to be,” Soroka said. “It’s time to compete, right? It’s time to go out there and play baseball. I miss it. That’s No. 1, but I understand this is a process.”
So, it’s back to another rehab grind for Soroka. It could be a lot worse.
Former Braves pitcher Darren O’ Day had two surgeries to repair tears in his left hamstring. He made a comeback with the Braves after the first injury, only to have it happen again while pitching for the Yankees in 2021. O’Day re-signed with the Braves last season and made 28 relief appearances before a hamstring injury sidelined him. O’Day announced his retirement last month.
Soroka said he played catch with O’Day before returning home and sustaining the hamstring injury.
“I texted him that night and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this,’” Soroka said.
I’m sure many Braves supporters had a similar reaction when they learned of Soroka’s latest injury. Few things in sports are more frustrating than a player who can’t reach full potential because the body won’t allow it. Soroka’s luck is so lousy that two of his injuries, a second Achilles tear and the hamstring strain, happened when he wasn’t even pitching.
The Braves will give Soroka every opportunity to come back because the potential payoff is so big. Soroka will keep trying to come back because he’s a ballplayer.
“This is my life, this is what I want to do, and the price to do that, I’ll pay it over again if I have to,” he said. “You learn what it’s like to just have to put your head down and do the day-to-day and put it ahead of what you are looking forward to doing a year from now or even five years from now.
“It’s important. Good work on a daily basis adds up, and we’ll see where we’re at in a few weeks.”
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