Mike Soroka fully burst onto the scene for the Atlanta Braves in 2019, as he made the NL All-Star team while finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. At the time, he looked like a potential top-of-the-rotation arm that could become a key piece of the team’s core for a long time. However, tragedy struck the next season, when Soroka suffered a torn Achilles in just his third start. He later suffered a second tear of the Achilles, which put his career in jeopardy.
After so many setbacks, Soroka finally returned to the mound in 2022, making six minor league starts while logging 25 total innings between Rome and Gwinnett. His performance was a mixed bag, but that wasn't what was most important: that Soroka was finally healthy enough to reach the doorstep of making a return to the major leagues.
“I feel great. Pretty well where I would be any normal year,” Soroka told the media at Braves Fest this past Saturday. “Different things to work on here coming into this season. Actually really thankful I got to get some things out last year, because there’s a lot of things about competition and whatnot that you don’t necessarily forget, but in the heat of the moment, it doesn’t quite come to you the same. So last year, a lot of things, little reminders here and there. It was nice to be able to hit the ground running this year. But yeah, I guess we have three weeks left [until] camp. So yeah, I’m excited. We’re about to get on the mound here and start going.”
Soroka entered the offseason finally free from the rehab work that had become a consistent presence in his life since his injury in 2022. That freed him to focus on the baseball-related elements that he needs to nail in order to not only return to the majors, but reclaim some of that success that he had prior to the injury.
“I have no problem doing the work associated with rehab, it’s just in terms of, emotionally, what it takes to be invested in the little stuff every day,” Soroka answered when asked about how this offseason has been different. “Obviously, coming down to the end of last year, you start to have to blend a lot of things together. When you’re blending rehab with an ankle into your throwing program and you’re lifting. When rehab kind of becomes working out and being an athlete.”
“Then also just trusting everything and letting it go once the time is right. It was kind of hard just to flip the page until we started this offseason,” Soroka added. “So, good to finally close the book on rehab and just be an athlete again. The people I’ve been working with this offseason have been amazing. I got to throw with Chris Reitsma for the last month. It’s been huge having that immediate feedback on some things that we’re working on. We’re in a good place.”
Throughout his rehab process, Soroka spoke multiple times of the need to be an athlete again. That means not just being able to run and jump, but to do so without restriction and without having to think about it.
“It’s nice just to be able to kind of take it off, not even have to warm up, go for a couple of sprints, go for a couple of jogs to warm up to get my day going,” Soroka said. “Jumping, all that kind of stuff. It’s kind of out of my mind now and that’s exciting. That’s when things can loosen up. But, I think at a certain point, somewhere in there, whether it was expectations I put on myself, I almost started to muscle up and try real hard, try too hard to do some things and that started to be counterproductive for me. I think this year is going to be really big for taking a deep breath, trusting the work that I’ve done, trusting who I am and relaxing and just playing. So that’s what I mean when I say athletes, just let it happen. That’s when I’m at my best. I’m excited to feel that again.”
Soroka said that he has spent most of the offseason working on his mechanics to make his windup repeatable again. He feels like he is in a good place heading into camp, where he will be without restriction to start.
“We’re getting down to the last couple of things that really need any sort of attention before it’s really time to just say, ‘Alright, let’s go play,’” Soroka said. “I found a lot of the things took a little while to get figured out through dry work, and how to do them. But, we went back and looked a lot of video of me throwing in high school, and a lot of the things that I’m trying to do I did back then as just being an athlete. [I f]ell into some bad habits through the years, whether it was to be able to try and manipulate the ball, game deception, whatever it might have been, it kind of was a little counterproductive. I think a lot of these things are getting to a good place. I’m starting to notice when I watch videos of me throwing, there doesn’t seem to be much difference throw to throw. It’s getting very repeatable, which is exciting, because that’s how I know things are going to go from here to here and be able to put the ball where I want.”
To further illustrate the importance of his mechanics and the ability to repeat his windup, you need look no further than his rehab stint in 2022. Soroka returned to the mound in Rome on August 16 and it was as if he had never left. He allowed just one hit over four scoreless innings while racking up eight strikeouts. However, the next start at Gwinnett was more of a challenge with his consistency.
“Came out in Rome and everything was right where it needed to be. It was like, I’m good, let’s go. The next time out, things were different,” Soroka said. “It just felt different and that was the consistency aspect of just not going out and doing it over and over again over the last couple of years. There’s a lot of things. Reminders, right? Finishing certain pitches, managing lineups, game management. That was it. You can sit at home on the couch or watch it in the dugout and you can see it from that vantage point all you want, but until you’re in it, it’s about doing it again. That’s where I felt like I made biggest stride was in Triple-A. It’s almost kind of going back to basics a little bit in a competitive atmosphere.”
Soroka will head into the spring among a small group of pitchers, including Ian Anderson, who are looking to win the fifth starter spot. Soroka called Anderson his best friend on the team and said that he stays with Anderson during the spring as Anderson has a home near the Braves’ complex in North Port. Ironically given their respective contributions at the MLB level, the first time Soroka and Anderson actually played together was at the end of last season in Gwinnett.
Obviously, there are still plenty of questions regarding Soroka, but this is a great story no matter the outcome. If he returns anywhere close to his previous form, then the Braves’ rotation will be even stronger than many are projecting. With Soroka, it is always about perspective. He isn’t eyeing the number of innings or even the number or runs he allows this spring. He knows he has to make it through the spring first.