Austin Riley’s mammoth home run in his major-league debut drew the loudest cheers and the most attention Wednesday night, but another Braves rookie continued to distinguish himself.
Mike Soroka pitched seven shutout innings against the Cardinals, the latest in a string of performances that suggest the 21-year-old Canadian can be the much-needed long-term ace of the Braves’ starting rotation if he remains healthy.
Consider the mounting evidence:
• Soroka lowered his ERA to 0.98, which would lead the major leagues if he had enough innings to qualify (he’s currently 6-1/3 innings short of qualifying for the leaders list).
• He has held opponents to one earned run or fewer in all six of his starts this season, becoming the first Braves pitcher since 1920 (the start of the “live-ball” era) to open a season with six consecutive such starts.
• He has held opponents to one earned run or fewer in nine of his 11 career starts, dating to last season, becoming the first MLB pitcher since 1913 (when earned runs became an official statistic) to have that many such starts in his first 11 career games.
• And he hasn’t allowed a home run this season, extending his homer-less streak to 56-1/3 innings, dating to last season, an amazing streak considering the way home runs fly out of ballparks these days.
“Impressive,” Braves infielder-outfielder Charlie Culberson said of Soroka. “To be that young — I mean, I was trying to get out of A ball (at that age) — and he’s dominating in the big leagues. It says a lot about him and what he can do and his composure on the mound. He’s next-level.”
Riley, who came into the Braves organization with Soroka from the 2015 amateur draft and played with him throughout the minor leagues, has seen it all before.
“I know he has lights-out stuff, and he has been proving it since (pitching for Single-A Rome),” Riley said. “After you get a couple of runs, you know he’s going to give us a good chance to win.”
Soroka missed 4-1/2 months last season with shoulder soreness, which again sidelined him in spring training this year and caused him to start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. But since joining the big-league team April 18, he has been the Braves’ best pitcher: allowing 23 hits and four earned runs in 36 2/3 innings, striking out 34 and walking 14. His sinker and his command have been major weapons.
Soroka (4-1) allowed only three hits against the Cardinals on Wednesday, all of them singles and all in different innings. His most difficulty came in the third inning, when he uncharacteristically walked the first two batters and hit a batter with a pitch to load the bases with one out. But he escaped the inning unscathed on a double play.
“The first walk of that inning really wasn’t too bad,” Soroka said. “A couple of those (pitches) were just off the plate, just off the corner — right where we want them, really. And then it turned into me trying to guide it in there ... as opposed to just being stubborn with it and just keep letting it rip.”
But he reasserted himself thereafter, completing seven innings for the second time in his past three starts. The Braves are 8-3 in his 11 career starts.
“The big thing I like about this kid is he doesn’t panic,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He just keeps pitching. He goes pitch to pitch. He doesn’t get caught up in the outcome down the road. He stays current on the mound, and I think it’s a great trait for a young pitcher to have.”