It warms your heart to see Mike Soroka make it to the Braves. That’s just what this franchise needs, a talented, impactful young player.
It’s not common for 20-year-old pitchers to rise to The Show this quickly, but Soroka has been fast-tracked since his 2015 drafting. He ranked in the 27-to-33 range on the major prospect clipboards this spring, despite his age and modest experience. After four strong turns at Triple-A (1.99 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 24 K against 5 BB), Atlanta summoned him for a Tuesday start against the Mets.
The book on Soroka said he had three good pitches, excellent control, a solid strikeout profile if not a dominant one. He stuck mostly to his late-dropping fastball and slider Tuesday, and didn’t seem at all fazed by the big stage. Soroka finished with six crisp innings (6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K), the only damage a Yoenis Cespedes home run. Atlanta’s bullpen maintained the lead, and just like that, Soroka had a win over Noah Syndergaard.
Soroka steps into a cushy spot for potential immediate success. The National League is once again the safer place to pitch, for whatever a month means to you (the OPS drops 24 points, the slugging drops 23 points). Miami’s a soft target in-division, the lowest-scoring team in the majors. SunTrust Park has been a fun place to hit in its short existence, but it’s too early to declare it an extreme yard or one for pitchers to avoid.
Soroka has been added proactively by fantasy owners, climbing to 32 percent in Yahoo leagues. But there are still good seats remaining on the bandwagon. Soroka draws the Giants and Marlins, two favorable opponents, for his next two starts. Just like that, the young Braves are becoming must-see TV.
• When the Cardinals made a late-spring singing of Greg Holland, it was with the intention of giving him the ninth inning. But things have been so rocky for Holland (7.36 ERA, 8 BB, 7 K), the club made the inevitable move Tuesday — anointing Bud Norris the Cardinals closer until further notice.
Norris has earned the trust, stringing together 14 outstanding appearances (14.1 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 20 K). That zesty K/BB ratio speaks for itself. He picked up a surprise win Tuesday when the Cardinals tripped up the White Sox (and Joakim Soria) in the bottom of the ninth. Norris is also 5-for-5 on save opportunities.
Matt Carpenter had a homer in Tuesday’s win, a sight for sore eyes. Carpenter is off to a dreadful start (.170/.320/.330), making us wonder how healthy his shoulder is. His strikeouts have risen by 5.6 percent, but he’s still walking at a terrific clip (17.4 percent). His line-drive rate is 27.9 percent, and a drop in hard-hit rate is partially mitigated by a drop in soft contact. We’re all guessing on how healthy Carpenter is, but obviously that .203 BABIP doesn’t jibe with his other stats.
I can’t jump ship or do anything rash just yet. I’ve always loved Carpenter’s approach at the plate and position flexibility. Someday, I might be the last apologist.
• Just when we thought the Angels closing situation was tidy and squared away, we have to reopen the Mike Scioscia files. We do this with much trepidation, given Scioscia’s curious whims through the years.
Keynan Middleton was off and running as the April stopper, saving 6-of-7 games with a solid strikeout rate and a 2.40 ERA. The walks were problematic — seven in 15 innings — but he was working around them. Alas, Middleton blew his last save opportunity, and then fell on the disabled list Tuesday, elbow injury.
Middleton is hoping to be back in the minimum 10 days, which is nice to hear — but most players speak like that. We have to be skeptical on any elbow injury until the player proves he’s truly fine, and in the meantime, we audit the Angels bullpen.
Cam Bedrosian hasn’t been great this year (4.30 ERA, 1.43 WHIP), and he blew Tuesday’s save chance — though he recouped a win when the Angels scored in the bottom of the ninth. Jim Johnson has the veteran closer card and he’s been solid enough to this point (3.38/1.19, 14 K in 16 IP). Justin Anderson has impressed since his recall, five scoreless innings (3 H, 3 BB, 7 K). He pitched in the seventh inning Tuesday, while lefty Jose Alvarez (untouchable through 13.2 innings; 0.95/0.66) and Johnson (one pitch) handled the eighth.
So there’s a lot to unpack here. Maybe Middleton will come back quickly. Perhaps Scioscia will lean on a veteran like Johnson, or a legacy closer like Bedrosian (his dad was a Cy Young winner in 1987). Alvarez has to deal with the anti-lefty bias for closing. Anderson has five MLB appearances to his name.
Heck, we didn’t even mention Blake Parker yet. So grab a bunch of darts, you’ll need them. And I wouldn’t blame anyone who decided this current bullpen was too volatile to chase, even if there are some appealing ratios on display.
• The Nationals had a 12-4 laugher over the Pirates, with Matt Adams conking two of Washington’s four homers. Adams got the call in left field — clearly not his ideal position or a long-term spot for him — but you wonder if he could push 1B Ryan Zimmerman down the road. Adams has a robust .296/.397/.630 slash line along with five homers, while Zimmerman is off to a dreadful .186/.245/.373 start.
Obviously Zimmerman’s 2017 season buys some goodwill and leash, but Washington can’t mess around forever. Even with Tuesday’s win, they’re merely 14-16 — and behind three other clubs in the NL East. The Mets might be good, the Braves have all those buzzy kids, the Phillies have an interesting club. Washington was considered a prohibitive favorite in March and there’s plenty of time to get back to the top of the division, but Adams is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
I’ve added Adams in some deeper leagues. He’s only three percent owned in Yahoo. The next six games bring a right-handed opponent, so Adams figures to be liberally used while he’s swinging a hot bat. Maybe he can run with this a bit.