With the Atlanta Braves’ rotation down three arms, the importance of staff ace Mike Soroka becomes even more magnified as the club looks to avoid a third straight loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
The right-handed Soroka spun six scoreless innings Friday against the New York Mets on Opening Day, but got a no-decision as Atlanta’s National League East rival earned a 1-0 win behind a solo homer by Yoenis Cespedes.
Veteran pitchers Felix Hernandez (season opt out) and Cole Hamels (triceps tendinitis) are missing from Atlanta’s starting five, and the staff took another hit Monday when the club cut ties with No. 4 starter Mike Foltynewicz, who was designated for assignment after the Rays’ 14-5 pummeling of the Braves.
The uncertainty on the back end of the staff puts more pressure on Soroka, who had the NL’s third-best ERA (2.68) and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Mets slugger Pete Alonso in 2019.
After losing two in St. Petersburg, Fla., Atlanta goes north to its home ballpark riding a two-game skid, but the club can find solace in its 8-5 record against the Rays in its friendly confines.
Soroka allowed four hits and struck out three without issuing a walk in his season debut, keeping Alonso and the Mets off-balance throughout his six-inning stint.
He said he was enthusiastic about matching up against the Mets’ ace — two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom.
“I’ve gotten used to watching him and feeding off the energy he brings to the mound,” Soroka told reporters recently. “He’s been so good the last few years and you just want to keep up.”
The Calgary native will get another chance to match up against one of the best in the big leagues when he faces Tampa Bay staff ace and curveball specialist Charlie Morton (0-1, 13.50), who came through the Braves’ farm system.
Morton is starting his 13th season and made his first career Opening Day start against Toronto. He started well, but faded in a 6-4 loss. In four-plus innings, Morton gave up six runs on seven hits, one walk and four strikeouts.
“I think there was just so much anticipation and there were so many things to get us to this point, and I go out there and give up six runs in four innings,” said Morton. “It’s a pretty big letdown.
“I didn’t feel the stuff coming out of my hand was great. I didn’t feel like my fastball was very threatening. I’ll get with (pitching coach Kyle Snyder) and see what those pitches are actually doing.”
While the big innings on Monday and Tuesday were game-changers — eight in the fourth Monday, five in the third Tuesday by the Tampa Bay offense — the overall pitching has impressed manager Kevin Cash.
“We’re still getting pitchers built up,” Cash said of his club, which has won four straight. “We’re probably another time through from being full-go with the bulk of our starters. And the bullpen has been remarkable.”
First baseman Ji-Man Choi, who made two errors in Tuesday’s 5-2 win, left the game late with right shoulder soreness after a diving stop of a grounder and will be evaluated.
–Field Level Media