August 3, 2020: Michael Soroka tears his Achilles tendon in a game against the Mets.
June 24, 2021: Soroka re-tears his Achilles tendon.
August 16, 2022: Soroka returns to an official game for the first time since his Achilles tendon injuries, throwing four innings in a minor league game.
May 29, 2023: Michael Soroka Day returns to the major leagues, as he will make his first major league appearance in nearly three years as the Braves kick off a series against the Oakland Athletics.
Yes, friends, happy Michael Soroka Day, coming straight into your eyeballs just a few hours from now. I’m not sure how much more there is to say at this point: the Ace that was Promised has not had an easy path back to the bigs, and it’s not clear if he would even be re-donning an Atlanta Braves uniform at this point if not for the star-crossed state of the team’s rotation, but here we are. After Soroka threw six innings with an 8/3 K/BB ratio last Tuesday for Triple-A Gwinnett, the Braves have deemed him ready, and pushed back their other starters to get Soroka into the game on Monday night.
Soroka returns to a career 65 ERA-, 78 FIP-, and 88 xFIP- line across 37 major league outings, all starts. He probably won’t pick up right where he left off, but Oakland has the potential for a nice, relatively soft landing for him, as the Athletics don’t offer much in the way of intimidating bats beyond sluggers Brent Rooker and Ryan Noda, and the park is pretty pitcher-friendly to boot. Soroka aggregate line in Triple-A in eight starts this year wasn’t overwhelming: 4.33 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, but the Braves are clearly more concerned with his progress than his overall performance, hence the decision to promote him now.
Perhaps fittingly, Soroka’s mound opponent for his 2023 debut will be another 2023 debutee, Paul Blackburn, that has also had a winding road back to the majors (though not anywhere near as tortuous as Soroka’s). Blackburn was placed on the Injured List prior to Opening Day with a fingernail issue, and had an extended stay making rehab starts because he developed a blister, and then also missed some time on the paternity list. He also missed much of the last two months of 2022 with a torn tendon sheath in his finger, so he’ll be making his first major league start in about nine months tonight. Like Soroka, the Athletics appear to be activating Blackburn at this point specifically because his most recent minor league outing was good enough — though to be fair, their pitching has been historically bad to the extent that even a relatively ineffective Blackburn is probably an improvement.
Even when he was healthy enough to earn an All-Star selection in 2022, Blackburn was not particularly effective. He posted 116/110/99 line in 21 starts spanning 111 1⁄3 innings last year, and has a 128/111/104 line in 249 1⁄3 career innings, mostly all starts. That FIP comes out to 1.7 fWAR, or about 1.4 fWAR per 200 innings — basically your average fourth starter-type, which is, of course, the ace of the shambles that is the Oakland rotation.
Blackburn actually made his major league debut against the Braves, back in 2017, throwing six innings of one-run ball against a team that has absolutely no one in common with the current iteration. The Braves won that game late, as Arodys Vizcaino blew a two-run lead to a Khris Davis homer in the eighth, only for Dansby Swanson to hit a game-winning, go-ahead double in the top of the ninth to aid a 4-3 win. Soroka has not yet faced the Athletics in his career.
Michael Soroka Day, Inaugural 2023 Edition
Atlanta Braves @ Oakland Athletics
Monday, May 29, 2023
8:07 pm EDT
Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA
TV: Bankruptcy Sports South
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online, Ch. 176