Soroka anxious to return to action sooner than later
NORTH PORT, FL -- Injury and Mike Soroka have been associated more than the 25-year-old right-hander would like, but it sounds like his latest setback is only a minor speed bump on the comeback trail.
While that trail has stretched for more than two years, Soroka is confident that hamstring tightness won't keep him out of action for long this spring.
"It was kind of an unfortunate situation, just doing dry work before camp," he said of his hamstring injury. "It was actually the day before I drove down [to Florida], just felt a little grab and decided we weren't going to push it here early in camp now that we have a full six weeks. Hopefully, I should be getting back out there pretty soon."
Soroka said he felt the discomfort after playing catch with former teammate Darren O'Day and working out in Atlanta on Sunday. Given the time they have for treatment, Soroka knew there was no reason to push it despite his disappointment.
However, there's no way to sugarcoat the mental stress of spending two years overcoming multiple injuries, only to get healthy and feel great heading into spring then suffer a setback just days before reporting to camp.
"Yeah, it was a kick in the groin," said Soroka. "Honestly, when it happened, I was pretty worried. I was pretty scared because I know sometimes hamstrings can be a little temperamental. Fortunately, it's turned around pretty quick."
Though he continues to throw on the side, Soroka's next step will be testing the hamstring out and running. If everything checks out, he'll get mound work, throw bullpen sessions, and then get in some game action in March. The Braves have over a month remaining to bring the righty along, thus their cautious approach.
Brian Snitker has seen everything Soroka has attempted to overcome since the initial injury in August of 2020 and was hoping for a normal, uneventful spring training.
"He's been through a lot," said Snitker. " I was hoping he'd just come be a normal guy. I thought he'd really want to just be one of the guys. Get in the group and just go and do your PFP's, go do whatever it is, do your throwing and just be one of the guys. And eventually he's going to get to that. He'll be there sooner than later and be able to go."
Sooner than later sounds pretty good to Soroka, who was his usual upbeat self when speaking with the media on Tuesday morning. It was perhaps an anxious optimism.
"Obviously, it's going to be a little bit of a crunch time once we get back on the mound and stuff like that, but hopefully that's pretty soon here," said Soroka. "We haven't talked about [the specific timetable] yet, but we're playing catch and keeping the arm going. That won't take too long to come back."
After twice tearing his right Achilles tendon, Soroka finally made it back on a mound during a six-start minor league rehab assignment in 2022. He feels that experience helped prepare him for the real test, which is rejoining the major league rotation for the first time since August of 2020.
"That was what I needed," said Soroka of those 25 innings last year. "We talked about that when we started dealing with a couple of issues, that I wanted to fight through those to be able to get innings last year."
Those innings were a lot more than just building arm strength and regaining muscle memory. Soroka wanted the opportunity to knock off the rust and get comfortable on the mound in all facets of the game.
"You know, there are a lot of things competitively that you don't necessarily forget about, but you forget about the intensity of being in competition and what it's like to make quick decisions on the fly" he added. "Especially with the pitch clock in the minor leagues, which was good to feel. I'm not coming into a new situation in that as well. There were tons of things that were good little reminders last year that are going to be good for being able to compete in spring this year."
While Soroka is well-versed in playing the waiting game and tempering expectations throughout his long road back, he is still eyeing an April return to the big leagues.
"That would be best case scenario, of course, everything comes out really clean right away and we're off the races," said Soroka, "Obviously, it's a bit of a process. Expectations for myself are always going to be the highest and I think understanding that wanting to be out there is exactly where I need to be. It's time to compete, right? I need to go out there and play baseball. I miss it."
Whatever comes next, Soroka has learned a great deal on this journey he hopes will lead him back to the major leagues in the near future. This series of professional challenges has helped shape him personally along the way.
"I think you learn resilience," said Soroka. "You learn what you're really capable of on a daily basis when you have to. This is my life. This is what I want to do. The price to do that, I'll pay it over again if I have to. I think you learn what it's like to just have to put your head down and work, put the day-to-day ahead of what you're looking forward to be doing in a year from now or even five years from now. I learned just good work on a daily basis adds up.
Grant McAuley covers the Braves for 92-9 The Game in Atlanta. Follow Grant on Twitter and Instagram and subscribe to From The Diamond wherever you get your podcasts.