Now Healthy, Mike Soroka Remains Confident Heading Into 2019
Last year was a tale of two seasons for Mike Soroka.
The then-20-year-old righthander came out strong to start his season with the Braves' Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett, where he was more than six years younger than the average Triple-A player. There, in five games, his 2.00 ERA over 27 innings with just six walks, 31 strikeouts and an 0.96 WHIP earned him a call up to the majors.
Soroka made a memorable debut on May 1, holding the Mets to just one run over six innings and earning his first win in a game that saw him matched up against Noah Syndergaard. The native of Calgary, Alberta made two more big-league starts before experiencing shoulder inflammation.
Sidelined for a month, Soroka appeared to be better than ever in his return. Facing the Mets once more, he held the division rivals to just one hit over 6.1 innings. Following the stellar performance, the young righty returned to his home and native land for his fifth start in the majors, pitching at the Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays in front of an excited group of friends, family and fellow countrymen.
Though the experience was enjoyable, Soroka’s time on the mound in Toronto was the opposite. The Braves prospect wasn’t at his best, and it was clear that something was wrong.
“It was the first time that it didn’t feel good throwing,” he said. “The first time [Soroka landed on the disabled list] was more discomfort than anything else. That night in Toronto, I knew and was able to go to the training staff and tell them, ‘It doesn’t feel right, it’s not supposed to feel like this.’ So I was trying to keep that under control and not overexaggerate anything there, wait until we saw what it was and what we thought we needed to do to get better, and decompressing from all of that.
“It took me a couple days because I had a bunch of friends and family in town in Toronto and I was able to go out with them and forget about it for the night. Because really at that point there was nothing you could do. So that was nice, to be able to get a piece of them for a little bit and be able to forget about some things—that’s what family’s awesome for. I’m very thankful they were able to be there.”
From there, Soroka and his squad returned to Atlanta, where he had numerous MRIs and met with multiple doctors, including Dr. James Andrews, whom he was excited to meet and even more thrilled to know that the world-renowned physician was on the same page as everyone else Soroka had spoken to.
“I was excited to be able to meet basically a legend,” Soroka said. “He’s done so much for the medical side of sports with knees, elbows, you name it. So being able to have one of the best take a look at you, and also agree with everybody else who had seen my results, just to see him and have everything line up, that was comforting, knowing they wanted his opinion and to make sure nothing fell through the cracks.”
After six weeks off from throwing, Soroka headed to Orlando to start tossing—starting with every other day and working his way up to every day before getting on the mound during fall instructional league action.
“I was definitely hoping to be back for playoffs, or even just before playoffs, but it was an executive decision to shut it down a little longer and make sure that it was gone, to be able to come into spring training this year fully healthy and ready to go,” he said.
Though the recovery process was seemingly simple — albeit time-consuming — for Soroka, the moment he felt that something was really wrong with his throwing shoulder was anything but.
“You always dread seeing something like that happen,” the 21-year-old said. “Honestly, it makes you sick to your stomach to think about it . . . When it happens, it’s different. But diagnosing it is definitely the most important thing, to make sure that you have the right diagnosis. That’s the biggest issue with shoulders a lot of times—there’s so much going on there you don’t exactly know what you’re feeling or what’s causing it.
“It’s a lot easier to pinpoint a spot in the elbow and say, ‘This is what’s hurting,’ because there’s only one spot and it’s either strained or inflamed or torn. With the shoulder, there are so many different connection areas and everything’s so intertwined that sometimes you could be feeling something that’s just a cause of something else being at a disadvantaged position.”
Once the problem was properly diagnosed as shoulder inflammation in his subscap muscle and Soroka was able to recover, he and his training staff were able to implement preventative measures in the hope of avoiding anything similar in the future.
“The worry for me was how do I correct this to make sure that the muscle is not overworking in the future?” the 6-foot-5, 225-pound pitcher said. “You don’t want it to be one of those things that keeps coming up every so often and plagues you for the rest of your career. That was my No. 1 concern, and I’m pretty confident that working with our medical staff, some medical friends we know at home, and also Eric Cressey down here in Florida, we’ve come up with a pretty good plan to be able to keep that muscle strong and capable.”
On the mound, nothing will look different for Soroka. But he has altered his routine away from the field and in the gym, which will be an ongoing process.
“Not changing anything in the arm action,” he said. “Actually, the cause that we found was basically a dysfunctionality in the way that my scap was moving, and that was a cause of some muscles being stronger than others and being a little imbalanced.
“So a lot of my rehab and current work is stretching the muscles that need stretching, and strengthening the ones that need strengthening. I’m just trying to balance things out and make sure everything’s working the way it should be. I know it sounds simple, but it’s sometimes the simplest things are the ones that make the most sense.”
2019 MLB All-Rookie Team
Baseball America's annual All-Rookie team, featuring prominent names like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Pete Alonso, Yordan Alvarez & more.
While in one portion of the season Soroka achieved the highest of highs and found early success in his major league debut, the latter half of the year was much more trying and a learning opportunity for the young player.
“Once you start dealing with injuries you have a lot more questions that arise—questions about yourself, a lot more questions about your future in general—and it kind of hit me all at once,” he said. “I know a lot of guys who have more serious injuries say the same thing. There are always questions about why it happened and how am I going to keep it from happening again, because if I can’t, maybe I’m never going to throw the ball the same.
“That’s the scariest thought, and that’s more or less the thought you have to learn to control and realize it’s a thought you can’t help think about. But at the same time you need to make sure you keep it out of your head because it’s not helpful. It’s not helpful to dwell on that thought. The only thing you can really do on a day-to-day basis is make sure that you’re doing everything you know how to do to get everything better. Learning a lot of that and trying to be able to apply that to baseball is going to be helpful too.”
In spite of his unfortunate series of events, Soroka is thankful for the growth he experienced througout the process and the perspective he’s gained.
“It has made me a lot more grateful when I throw a baseball every day,” he said. “Every throw I make has been made with much more intent. I wouldn’t say I ever took pitches for granted, but playing catch every day, sometimes you don’t take things as seriously, especially in a game of catch that you’ve done thousands of times.
“But really making sure everything stays good with every throw is important now, because you realize how quickly things can happen when you’re hurt, and you see a lot of other guys still getting better because they’re still throwing, they’re still learning. And when you’re sidelined, that’s not possible. So you learn to make the best of your time.”