ATLANTA—The Braves made the obvious official Tuesday: Mike Soroka will be their opening-day starter July 24 against the Mets.
Soroka, 22, will become the youngest opening-day starter in Braves history. The outing will be at Citi Field, where he made his major league debut in 2018.
Manager Brian Snitker informed Soroka on Monday night after he pitched in the team’s intrasquad scrimmage.
“It’s pretty cool,” Soroka said. “It’s a good feeling. … When Snit told me, it was cool. It’s something you dream about as a kid. Opening day to me was always about watching the best pitchers who were available for each team. It’s one of the only times of the year that you align all the best pitchers at once and you get to pick your matchups.
“I was once looking at who (Max) Scherzer would face, who (Justin) Verlander would face. All that stuff. To be considered in that group, I’m blown away and it’s a great honour.”
Soroka will have one more exhibition opportunity before the season begins. He acknowledged he’d been peeking at the calendar lately, realizing he was lined up for opening day, but tried to contain his excitement. The right-hander originally was to start opening day in Arizona on March 26 before the pandemic suspended the MLB season.
“When I told him, you could tell he was excited,” Snitker said. “It’s a big deal, regardless of the situation. It’s an honour. It’s a big deal. It’s well-deserved. He understands what that means and he’s worked really hard. It’s well-deserved.”
After starting five games in 2018, Soroka truly emerged last season. He recorded a 2.68 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 29 starts, earning an All-Star appearance during his first full major league campaign. Soroka, whose 1.55 road ERA led the majors, finished sixth in Cy Young voting.
His final start might’ve been his best. Soroka allowed one run over seven innings in his first post-season start, which was Game 3 of the National League Division Series in St. Louis. The blossoming ace finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, receiving the only first-place vote that didn’t go to Mets slugger Pete Alonso.
While Soroka is disappointed his family won’t attend his historic start — games will be played in empty stadiums because of the pandemic — he knows they’ll be supporting him in Calgary.
“They might be able to throw a smaller gathering to be able to watch it,” Soroka said. “That’ll be good for them. But of course you want them there to support you like they were in the playoffs for my debut and all the year, really. They’ve been amazing. They’ve been down as much as they can. I’m going to miss them, but it’s still going to be special to be there for them on the big screen.”
Now considered the crown jewel of the Braves’ pitching-emphasized rebuild, Soroka is baseball’s youngest opening day starter since Miami’s Jose Fernandez in 2014 (at age 21). He’s the first pitcher other than Julio Teheran to start an opening day for the Braves since Tim Hudson in 2013.
Teheran, now with the Angels, started the last six opening days. His first came at age 23.
“I figured Julio would’ve been younger (than me when he made his first opening-day start),” Soroka said when informed he’d become the youngest in team history.
Soroka’s first opening-day tilt likely will come against Mets ace Jacob deGrom, the reigning two-time Cy Young winner. It will be a matchup of increased importance under MLB’s 60-game schedule.
“He’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball for a while now,” Soroka said. “Arguably the best the last couple years. He’s special to watch, and he’s special to compete with. I’ve gotten to do it a couple times. Obviously we won’t be able to face each other at the plate this time (because of the designated hitter), so that’ll be a little change, but I’m excited nonetheless.”
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The Braves are 2-0 in Soroka vs. deGrom meetings. They first met on June 13, 2018, in Soroka’s fourth career start. The youngster allowed one hit over 6 1/3 innings. DeGrom, meanwhile, allowed one run across seven innings, with his offence unable to back him up in a 2-0 loss.
Soroka faced the Mets three times last year. His only outing against deGrom occurred June 28, when the Braves beat the Mets, 6-2. Soroka allowed two earned runs over 6 1/3 innings. The Braves tagged deGrom for three earned runs over six innings.