The Futures Game proved to be the experience of a lifetime for Mike Soroka, but he was eager to get back on the hill for Double-A Mississippi in a game that counted.
"It was fun to get the true adrenaline pumping again," Atlanta's No. 4 prospect said Thursday night. "It was just really fun, a fun day. I felt upbeat all day and I managed to keep it on the mound."
Soroka scattered four hits while striking out six over seven innings to lead Mississippi to a 2-0 win over Pensacola at Blue Wahoos Stadium. It marked the sixth time in 16 starts this season in which the right-hander didn't allow a run.
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"Kade Scivicque and I did a good job utilizing [all pitches]," Soroka said. "Got the changeup in a little more later in the game. I feel like it almost got better later in the game. It was just finishing my slider, throwing it for strikes early in the count. Getting good in-zone and out-zone pitches.
"It paid off. We had them unbalanced. It was an all-around good pitching performance and I wouldn't have been there without my catcher, Kade."
Before representing Canada on the World Team in the Futures Game, the 19-year-old surrendered four runs in a season-low three innings on July 5 against Mobile. A pitch count kept him from going deeper into the game, but Soroka knew he didn't have his best stuff.
Video: Soroka records sixth strikeout
"I wasn't as jumpy to go," he said. "Usually right before the game, about a half-hour before, I get out to warm up and I get a little antsy, jumpy. I kind of didn't have it that day. All it really translated to was not really finishing my pitches as well."
MLB.com's No. 64 overall prospect changed his fortunes Thursday as he tossed 61 of 94 pitches for strikes and reduced his ERA from 2.55 to 2.37, third-best in the Southern League. Soroka has allowed one run over 19 2/3 innings against Pensacola this season -- something he attributes to following the gameplan developed with Scivicque.
"Each outing against these guys, I've thrown all of my pitches for strikes," Soroka said. "I don't know how many different counts we've done against each hitter, we rarely repeat. There's only a couple of guys where we have our set tendencies where they keep biting. Later in the game, [I] even started throwing righty-on-righty changeups, and it started to pay off because you could see it -- fastball in, slider away, changeup -- and they have no idea what's coming next."
The Calgary, Alberta native navigated around top-ranked Reds prospect Nick Senzel's two-out double in the first inning while retiring eight of the first nine hitters.
Pensacola threatened with two outs in the third when he plunked No. 23 Reds prospect Blake Trahan before Josh VanMeter singled. Soroka (10-5) fanned Senzel to end the frame.
"Obviously I knew who was at the plate, one of the best hitters in the game, hitting around .300," the 6-foot-5, 225-pound hurler said. "The odds are still stacked against him. But time and time again, we executed our plan.
"Every pitch was a competitive pitch. It was for effect, there were no waste pitches. What he had seen in previous at-bats goes into that. It was just execution. You're going to get a lot of guys -- doesn't matter who it is."
Soroka faced no other high-leverage situations and retired 11 of the final 13 batters. After setting down eight in a row, he thought he might start the eighth, but Mississippi called on Devan Watts.
"I was getting myself ready for the next three [hitters]," the Alberta high school product said. "You never want to take your foot off the gas until you're told you're done. It's obviously nice to keep that momentum going into the seventh. Sometimes you know it might be your last inning, so you tend to bear down a little more. I went 3-0 on one hitter, came all the way back. He put a good swing on the ball, but it was right to our left fielder [Tyler Neslony]. It was just one of those nights where fielders made really good plays."
Watts gave up one hit over two scoreless frames to earn his first Southern League save after collecting four in 19 games with Class A Advanced Florida.
Keith Curcio hit a solo homer, his fourth of the season, and added a sacrifice fly for Mississippi.
No. 19 Reds prospect Keury Mella (2-7) yielded two runs on six hits with five strikeouts over seven innings for the Blue Wahoos.