During a brief stint in the Major Leagues last year, Mike Soroka's main takeaway was simple: every pitch counts. On Saturday, in his season debut, the top Braves prospect was nearly perfect with each offering.Soroka, who was again hampered by shoulder issues during Spring Training, retired all 15 batters he faced,
During a brief stint in the Major Leagues last year, Mike Soroka's main takeaway was simple: every pitch counts. On Saturday, in his season debut, the top Braves prospect was nearly perfect with each offering.
Soroka, who was again hampered by shoulder issues during Spring Training, retired all 15 batters he faced, striking out seven, as Triple-A Gwinnett blanked Norfolk, 7-0, at Coolray Field.
MLB.com's No. 24 overall prospect also learned another valuable lesson while with Atlanta.
"Also making every throw count in between start days," he said. "Even though you're there, if you're not getting better or not improving, you're not doing your job. You have to do what you got to do to make sure you're staying on top of everything. Opportunities never come around often."
Gameday box score
Soroka knows all too well that opportunities can be short-lived. The Braves shut him down toward the end of February after he experienced right shoulder discomfort. That same shoulder cost him most of last season, when he debuted for Atlanta and made five starts for the big club. Before that, Soroka had compiled a 1.99 ERA in four starts for the Stripers. He returned to the Minors for a pair of rehab starts in June but ultimately landed on the 60-day injured list.
Once the shoulder barked again six weeks ago, Soroka knew he wouldn't be breaking camp with the Major League club.
"We weren't going to waste any time building up if I wasn't going to pitch anyway," the 225-pounder said. "We took care of it, and I'm glad the medical staff has always had my best interest in mind and helps me get back out there as soon as possible while knowing what's best for me."
So Soroka stepped on the mound for his first outing in nearly 10 months and reminded everyone why the Braves selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2015 Draft. The seven punchouts were one from his season high in the Minors last year (his career high is 12). Along the way, the right-hander fanned Orioles No. 2 prospectRyan Mountcastle and Christopher Bostick twice apiece.
"It felt awesome. It felt really good to go out there and compete. Just going out there and giving it everything you got again was great," he said. "It'd been a while since I was out there and I was happy to leave the mound healthy.
"There were a couple pitches I wasn't all that happy with. It was one of those days you have all your stuff going for you. It was nice to go out there and compete with it all."
Despite never working with Gwinnett catcher Raffy Lopez prior to Saturday, Soroka credited the backstop for calling a solid game. In fact, the Bishop Carroll High School product said the unfamiliarity likely served as an advantage against the Tides.
"[Lopez] and I did a really good job of getting in a rhythm right away," he said. "It's a lot of fun starting the slate clean, too. You don't know their preferences and he doesn't know yours. So it's hard to know what each guy tends to fall in love with and you're both keeping each other sharp."
The last time the Calgary native did not issue a free pass in a game came last year during one of his rehab starts for Class A Rome, when he pitched 3 2/3 scoreless frames. On Saturday, he threw 35 of 49 pitches for strikes.
"I'm fully healthy," the 2017 Futures Game participant said. "I'm just building up from Spring Training. It's my job to go out there and be a good teammate just like I did any other day and compete. A lot of my best friends are here. It doesn't change what you're trying to do every single day."
Soroka went on to make one more start after that Rome outing -- five days later for Gwinnett -- before being shelved again. The goal in 2019 is for history to not repeat itself, and if the 21-year-old can couple health with the results he posted Saturday, he should find himself back in Atlanta's rotation shortly.
"It'd be amazing," Soroka said of returning to the big league rotation. "It'll probably be better than the first time. Once you go back down and watch so much from the sidelines, it's a ton to think about. It's my job to stay on the field, first and foremost, and attack each pitch. It's something to strive for."
Braves No. 5 prospect Austin Riley clubbed his first two homers of the season and went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Travis Demeritte roped a two-run double and later scored.
"I felt good tonight," Riley told reporters after the game. "I did some damage at the plate. I was really just focusing in on my approach. [Hitting coach] Bobby Magallanes and I talked about staying up the middle. When I am good I am up the middle and the right-center gap."
The Stripers bullpen trio of Andres Santiago, Grant Dayton and Dan Winkler combined to allow only two baserunners over the final four innings.
Chris Bumbaca is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @BOOMbaca.