By TYSON SHUSHKEWICH
Canadian Baseball Network
It is safe to say that Michael Soroka has had a very rough few seasons, dating back to the shortened 2020 campaign.
After making a splash on the big league stage during the 2019 season, where he posted a 2.68 ERA through 174 2/3 innings with an National League-leading 0.7 HR/9 and a 7.3 K/9, Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) has struggled to stay on the field due to numerous injuries.
While facing the New York Mets on Aug. 3, 2020, Soroka struggled early. In the second inning, a ground ball to the right side saw the right-hander head toward first to cover the base when he tumbled to the ground and stayed down in considerable pain.
He would later be diagnosed with a torn Achilles tendon that required surgery, ending his 2020 season and impacting his 2021 campaign as he started on the 60-day injured list (IL). While walking back to the clubhouse later that year, Soroka would completely re-tear the same Achilles tendon, ending his 2021 season as he underwent another surgery.
Soroka returned to the mound late in 2022, making six starts split between High-A and Triple-A as he tried to get some innings under his belt, only to finish the year on the IL again due to elbow soreness.
“After the surgeries and the various rehab stints, it almost feels like it didn’t really happen,” Soroka told the Canadian Baseball Network.
“It has been a different few years, especially with COVID mixed in, it doesn’t really feel like I have been out that long. It’s good to be back out there and competing and reminding myself of some things that I did before the injuries kept me off the field.”
When reflecting on the offseason, Soroka spoke about staying healthy and working on his mechanics to keep him healthy for the long term.
“Learning to stay healthy after those injuries was key heading into the 2023 season and I knew that there were some sacrifices I had to make in order to stay on the field and compete,” he said.
“It’s hard to get better as a pitcher when you’re on the IL and working on my biomechanics to stay on the field and still pitch well was key for me this offseason.”
A hamstring strain right before spring training hampered his ramping up for the 2023 campaign, as the right-hander was looking to make the big league rotation after three years away from the big-league stage.
This spring, the former Calgary PBF Redbird would make one start in the spring before being optioned to Triple-A, where he is currently pitching. As a Redbird, he was coached by the late Jim Lawson and former major-leaguer Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.)
Healthy and in the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers’ rotation, Soroka has made four starts and owns 4.86 ERA through 16 2/3 innings. He has allowed 21 hits and nine earned runs early this season while striking out 14 batters (7.6 K/9) with just four walks (2.6 BB/9).
His best outing this year was against the Omaha Storm Chasers last week, which saw Soroka go six full innings, allowing four hits and zero earned runs walking two and fanning five. Opponents currently own a .229 batting average against the former first-round pick while he has amassed a 1.10 WHIP in the process.
“Everything has felt really good lately and about as well as I expected,” said Soroka.
“There was a little rust out of the gate and it can be frustrating at times but I know I have to keep working through it and I think everything is really coming together.
“Even after my last outing, it was a good reminder that there are always things to learn and continue working on in order to better my craft.”
Armed with a four-pitch arsenal consisting of a sinker, four-seam fastball, slider, and change up, Soroka is sitting in the low-90s with his fastball offerings while his slider is averaging out at 83.0 MPH. The right-hander was cruising this season until his last start against the Buffalo Bisons this past weekend, where he allowed 10 hits and seven earned runs through three innings of work, which saw his ERA climb 3 1/2 points.
Looking at the current Braves’ rotation, Soroka is on the outside looking in, since Atlanta has the likes of Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton, Bryce Elder, Max Fried and Kyle Wright looking solid to begin the year. Southpaw Dylan Dodd and Jared Shuster have each made spot starts as needed, floating between Atlanta and Triple-A.
The Braves’ rotation currently boasts a league-leading 3.16 ERA while limiting batters to a .239 average and striking out 155 batters. While Soroka was injured, Strider and Fried established themselves as two of the top arms in the National League while the rest of the rotation is finding success early, with former top prospect Elder boasting a 2.17 ERA of his own this season.
At the moment, it appears that there is really no room for Soroka on the big league roster but it also would make sense that the Braves organization wants to be careful with the Junior National Team alum, as he only has 41 2/3 innings under his belt dating back to the 2020 season.
If he continues to pitch well in Triple-A despite his latest start, it will be tough for the Braves front office to keep him down in the minors.
Looking ahead, there is no doubt that Soroka will return to the Braves pitching staff at some point this year. The ‘when’ is yet to be determined. In this era, clubs never go wire-to-wire with their set rotation. A year ago the Braves used 12 different starters.
If Soroka continues his current pace and stays healthy, that date will likely be sooner than later for a Braves squad that currently leads the NL East.
(This story was originally published on the Canadian Baseball Network website on May 5, 2023 and has been used here with permission).