Sadly, Braves can’t count on Michael Soroka

Pitcher heads to IL after rough outing
Braves starting pitcher Michael Soroka (40) throws at Truist Park on Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023, in Atlanta. 
Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Braves starting pitcher Michael Soroka (40) throws at Truist Park on Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023, in Atlanta.  Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Michael Soroka needs to show he can be an effective pitcher in the majors again. The Braves need another reliable starter for the postseason. Soroka and the team have been trying to line up those complementary goals this season, but it’s just not happening.

I’m not writing off Soroka yet. He’s only 26 years old. Soroka boosted his comeback bid by making changes to his delivery and doing good work at Triple-A Gwinnett. Soroka probably will never return to the form that earned him Cy Young Award votes before injuries sidetracked his career, but he’s got the talent to be an effective major-league starter.

That’s not going to happen this season. The Cardinals tagged Soroka for five runs in three innings on Tuesday night at Truist Park. That makes four ineffective starts in six tries for Soroka this season. After this one the Braves said Soroka will go on the injured list with what they described as numbness in his right fingers.

The Braves said Soroka was unavailable for comment after the 10-6 Cardinals victory. Manager Brian Snitker said Soroka told him he wasn’t sure when the numbness began. That’s a bummer for Soroka, who was out of the majors for two full seasons before this one. Soroka got his first MLB start since July 21 because he’d been pitching well for Gwinnett and his schedule matched up with the big-league team’s need for a fifth starter.

It was a time for Soroka to shine. Instead he had the shortest start of the season, though the injury might have had something to do with that.

“Every now and then he’d get into a pitch I thought was really good but, overall, he didn’t command the strike zone so good,” Snitker said.

Soroka’s poor outing sapped much of the energy from the ballpark. The Braves were riding high after a wildly successful trip during which they proved they’re better than the Dodgers, their top threat in the National League. The Braves got handled by the Cardinals, who are last in the NL Central.

Soroka has an unclear future with the Braves. He didn’t pitch in 2021 or 2022. The Braves kept re-signing him through his injury rehabilitations and are paying him $2.8 million this season. But Soroka will be out of minor-league options in 2024. Are the Braves willing to pay Soroka guaranteed money next season and eat it if he can’t make it back?

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

My guess is the Braves will keep him around. One clue for that: Snitker mentioned more than once that he’s impressed that Soroka made it this deep in the season. Maybe the Braves see this season as a ramp-up year for Soroka after he was out so long. Give him another winter to see if he can figure out a way to become successful as a different kind of pitcher.

Soroka has showed flashes of his old form. He was perfect in the first inning against the Cardinals with two strikeouts. Soroka had some bad luck in the second inning. Ronald Acuna Jr. dived for Jordan Walker’s shallow fly ball, but it bounced off his glove. Nolan Arenado scored on the double and the next batter, Tyler O’Neill, drilled Soroka’s chest-high fastball out of the park.

There was no misfortune for Soroka on the two runs allowed in the third. He walked Paul Goldschmidt with one out before Nolan Gorman homered. Soroka has walked 13 batters and allowed nine home runs over 32 1/3 innings this season. From 2018-20 Soroka walked 55 batters and gave up 15 homers over 214 innings. He’s trending in the wrong direction.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The Braves have three starters they can feel good about in the postseason. Max Fried, Spencer Strider and Charlie Morton are likely to give them good innings in the playoffs. The Braves are going to need at least four reliable starters in October, and I’m not convinced that Bryce Elder is that fourth guy. Kyle Wright may be on his way back but he’s had shoulder issues.

The Astros used four starting pitchers on the way to the 2022 World Series. They’re an outlier among recent MLB champions. The Braves used six starters in 2021 and the Dodgers five in 2020. The Nationals (six in 2019), Red Sox (five, 2018) and Astros (five, 2017) all used more than four starters. Every World Series champion during MLB’s wild-card era (starting in 2012) used at least four starters.

I doubt the Braves are counting on Soroka emerging as another option for the postseason. That would be a pleasant surprise, not part of the plan. Still, it would be nice to have him available as an effective veteran. Soroka certainly deserves better luck.

It didn’t happen for Soroka in his latest return to the big leagues. Now he’s going on the IL again. Sadly, the Braves just can’t count on Soroka in 2023.

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