The focus is often on his arsenal and control, but as far as intangibles go, Mike Soroka proved on Tuesday night he has elite poise and mound presence.
The Canadian righty showed out in his debut, going six strong innings and striking out five Mets on just 80 pitches; the only blemish was a moonshot home run to Yoenis Cespedes. Soroka logged his first career victory and looked impressive throughout, demonstrating pinpoint control as advertised and mixing his pitches like a veteran.
Despite reports from Dave O’Brien that this could serve as just a spot start for Soroka, and he could be optioned to Gwinnett to make room for Anibal Sanchez’s return from the DL, his performance tonight has made a very difficult decision for Alex Anthopoulos & Co.
Every position starter for the Braves reached via a base hit as the team totaled 15 overall. Four of those hits came before the first out, as the Braves ambushed Noah Syndergaard early. An Ozzie Albies single gave way to a consecutive doubles from Ronald Acuña and Freddie Freeman. A Nick Markakis single brought Freeman home to run the score up to 3-0, staking Soroka to an early lead
From the get-go, Soroka effectively pounded the zone and painted the corners, and used a grounder from Todd Frazier to get out of some hot water after surrendering back-to-back singles to Cespedes and Jay Bruce. After making it though his first frame, he could take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand.
Despite an Ender Inciarte leadoff single in the second (it’s a good sign to see him heating up), the Braves were unable to run the score up in the second. Soroka emerged for the home half of the inning with a sustained level of confidence and used it to drop a filthy slider on former Braves legend Adrian Gonazlez for his first career strikeout. The defense was also instrumental in helping him keep the shutout intact, as Freeman’s diving stop saved an opposite field rocket off the bat of Amed Rosario. Soroka kept the Mets off balance and off the board through the frame.
The Braves made some noise in the third, loading the bases but going scoreless after a Soroka groundout. Despite extinguishing a Braves rally in the top half of the inning, he also kept the Mets scoreless in the third, striking out Syndergaard and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Though they didn’t score after putting Acuña and Freeman on the corners in the fourth, the Braves were able to escalate Syndergaard’s pitch count, putting him at 71 pitches through four. The Mets also put two on in the bottom of the inning, but a gorgeous double play from Ozzie to Dansby to Freddie slammed the door before they could tally any runs.
The Mets tried their best to break through in the fifth, getting Tomas Nido all the way around to third, but a devastating slider to Cabrera brought Soroka’s strikeout total to five through five. The sharpness of his pitches was on display throughout the inning, as his fastball danced and each of his breaking pitches had bite.
The Braves went quietly in the sixth, but a towering home run to Cespedes proved Soroka is human after all. Moments like these can be unnerving and test the focus of a rookie, especially in his debut, so it was interesting to see how he would respond. The unflappable Soroka induced a grounder to Bruce (snagged by a diving Ozzie Albies in shallow right field) and a liner to right off the bat of Frazier. Between the HR and Frazier’s shot to the warning track, Snitker must have thought the Mets finally had Soroka’s number, as this would be his final inning.
Six innings, one run, no walks, and doing it on a huge stage in New York. What a debut.
Jerry Blevins came in to relieve Syndergaard in the seventh. After retiring Freeman and Markakis, a single from Suzuki chased Blevins, and after AJ Ramos’ number was called Swanson blooped a single just behind Frazier at third. A Ryan Flaherty single to left looked like it might plate Suzuki and run the score to 4-0, but Cespedes fired a missile to cut him down before he could score.
The seventh inning saw a gut punch to an already shaky Braves bullpen After throwing only two pitches upon relieving Soroka, Shane Carle signaled for the trainer and immediately came out of the game. The scene looked scary as it was unfolding, but news broke that his injury was related to numbness in his thumb and index finger. It would be irresponsible to speculate on the accompanying injury, but we will keep you posted as soon as we hear an official diagnosis of Carle’s injury.
Dan Winkler, another of the Braves bullpen stalwarts, came on to replace Carle. He struck out Rosario and Nido, then got pinch hitter Brandon Nimmo to pop out to end the inning.
As was the theme of the night, the Braves were unable to capitalize after getting a man on base in the eighth, squandering a pinch hit single by Preston Tucker. Snitker opted for A.J. Minter to face the Mets’ heavy hitters in the home half, and after allowing alead off single to Cabrera, he retired the 2-3-4 hitters in order.
The Braves were retired quietly in the ninth, and from there, the circus began. Frazier singled to right on a ball that Markakis was almost able to snag, but was ruled as a trap. Following Frazier, Gonzalez popped a ball into no-man’s-land, and it somehow managed to land between four Braves fielders, putting runners on first and second. An Amed Rosario strikeout was followed by a wild pitch to Wilmer Flores, moving both runners into scoring position. A Flores groundout scored Frazier, bringing Jose Reyes to the plate. Reyes skied one to left, and for a moment it looked as though Acuña would trip over his feet and allow the tying run to score. He managed to right the ship as he set foot on the warning track, closing his glove around the final out of the game.
Following that ninth inning, 65% of Braves Country bought stock in Tums.
Even with the bullpen roller coaster - nothing Braves fans aren’t used to at this point, sadly enough - the Braves still took the victory and moved to within ½ game of first place. The record now sits at 17-11, and remains one of the most exciting teams in the entire league.
Mike Soroka has certainly earned himself another start, in this writer’s humble opinion. Whether he gets it in five days, or another time in the future, remains to be seen. Until then, we who watched will be able to say we say a 20-year-old dominate a big league lineup with moxie.
The Braves face the Mets again tomorrow. Isn’t baseball just the best?