Soroka comfortable pitching at Rogers Centre

Making his second career start at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) held the Blue Jays to two runs on six hits but took the loss. Photo: Matt Antonacci

Making his second career start at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) held the Blue Jays to two runs on six hits but took the loss. Photo: Matt Antonacci

August 29, 2019

By J.P. Antonacci

Canadian Baseball Network

On the mound, Mike Soroka is the picture of calm. In the dugout, he can’t sit still.

At several points during the Atlanta rookie sensation’s start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, cameras caught the right-hander from Calgary pacing back and forth or swaying from side to side in the dugout between innings.

Soroka ran onto the field to start each frame, at one point getting to the mound so quickly he picked up the ball as it was rolling up the hill.

“It’s just something I’ve always done. I’ve never been able to sit still – I just want to be back out there playing,” Soroka said of his dugout calisthenics.

“That’s just the way I am.”

He insisted that making his second career start in his home country had nothing to do with what could have been interpreted as nervous energy.

“I don’t say I ever really get nervous anymore. The most nervous I got was before the draft, because opinions really mattered. But in pro ball, we just want to get out there and get after it,” he said.

“You make so many starts, and having made a couple starts on this mound with the Junior National Team and Tournament 12, it feels comfortable.”

Soroka’s second professional outing at Rogers Centre went better than his first. Making his fifth career start last June in Toronto, he coughed up four runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. That ended up being his final appearance that season before he was shut down with shoulder inflammation.

The Braves eventually overcame his rocky start to win that game but lost 3-1 on Tuesday despite Soroka only giving up two runs in six innings.

Soroka had many friends in the stands this week, along with a great-uncle who made the trip from Vancouver to watch his stellar sophomore start on home soil. He said the experience was just as special the second time around.

“It’s awesome. You get the nice sense to see the maple leafs on all the names around the stadium, and all the Canadian flags. And then to hear our anthem, that was pretty cool too,” Soroka said.

“It didn’t have the same oomph that it did last year, obviously coming up and being right at the beginning of my career, too. Being able to just settle in and have fun with it this time, I think that was great.”

Soroka’s second professional trip north of the border came in the midst of an exceptional season that has the 22-year-old in the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young conversations. On the strength of a virtually unhittable slider, Soroka has the lowest road ERA in the majors at 1.32, and he’s near the top of the league in most advanced pitching metrics.

Most impressive to Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers is Soroka’s consistency. He’s thrown 17 quality starts out of 24 total appearances, demonstrating a maturity on the mound that Flowers says belies his tender age.

“He’s really attentive,” Flowers said. “He has a very good understanding of himself and how to execute pitches, how to correct whatever he’s doing if he’s not getting the results he wants, the action he wants. I think usually it takes guys a while to get that good an understanding of themselves and how everything works for them.”

Flowers explained that Soroka will make adjustments in the midst of an inning or even an at-bat, while other pitchers would be resigned to struggle through a bad outing.

“He can throw one or two breaking balls, see what’s going wrong, and correct it by the third one,” Flowers said. “A lot of guys, it doesn’t happen until their next outing or their next side session.”

On the rare occasions Soroka does permit a couple of runs in an inning, Flowers said it’s usually because a ground ball sneaks through the infield or a bloop hit falls in.

“It’s never self-inflicted. It’s not walk a guy, walk a guy, give up a homer. Those are very rare for him,” Flowers said. “He’s very persistent in executing his pitches, hitting his spots – and if you find a hole, good for you, I’m getting the next guy.”

The veteran catcher says Soroka has the stuff and the mentality to succeed.

“He doesn’t ever panic when it’s not going well (and) he doesn’t ever get too high when it’s going really well. He just focuses on pitch to pitch and trying to execute,” Flowers said.

“He just really has a nice way about him – a cool, calm and collected guy.”