Braves Notes: Soroka, O’Day, Albies, Acuna

The Braves announced this afternoon that righty Mike Soroka has been activated from the 60-day injured list. He’s been optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. To open a spot on the 40-man roster, Atlanta transferred reliever Darren O’Day from the 15-day to the 60-day IL.

Soroka hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since August 2020. He ruptured his right Achilles tendon while trying to get off the mound to cover first base, a devastating injury that has kicked off multiple years of rehab. His efforts to return last season were cut short in June when Soroka suffered another Achilles tear while walking to the team’s clubhouse. He underwent a second surgery and has been trying to work his way back. He suffered an unrelated setback this July when he took a comebacker off the knee while throwing live batting practice, leading to another shutdown.

Six weeks later, Soroka made it back to a professional mound. He kicked off a rehab assignment with High-A Rome on August 16, and he’s since made two appearances with Gwinnett. He worked 4 2/3 innings and threw 75 pitches during his outing last Saturday. That’ll technically be his final rehab start now that he’s back on the 40-man roster, but the club will give him a bit more time with the Stripers to find his form. With five weeks left in the regular season, it seems likely we’ll see Soroka back on the Truist Park mound this month. How he pitches could well determine whether the club carries him on their postseason roster.

Despite having missed two seasons, Soroka just recently turned 25 years old. Before the Achilles tears, he looked like one of the better young arms in the sport. The former first-rounder pitched to a 2.68 ERA with a very strong 51.2% ground-ball rate over 174 2/3 innings in 2019, his age-21 season. He and the team agreed to a $2.8MM salary to avoid arbitration during Spring Training. He’ll be in line for a similar amount this winter and is controllable through 2024.

O’Day has been out since the All-Star Break after straining his left calf. Signed to a minor league deal over the offseason, the veteran submariner made the Opening Day roster. O’Day has been an excellent, if unconventional, late-game reliever for much of the past decade. The 2022 season had been more pedestrian even before the injury, however. Through 21 2/3 innings, the 39-year-old owns a 4.15 ERA with a strong 27.7% strikeout percentage but a career-high 10.6% walk rate.

Today’s IL transfer shouldn’t have much of an effect on O’Day, who still looks likely to factor into the bullpen mix for manager Brian Snitker late in the season. The 60-day minimal stint backdates to his original placement on July 12, so he’ll be eligible to return to the big league club next weekend. O’Day has been on a rehab assignment with Gwinnett, working seven innings over as many appearances.

Soroka and O’Day aren’t the only injured players who are planning to make it back from long-term absences this month. Ozzie Albies has been out of action since fracturing his left foot on June 13, but he’s closing in on a return. Albies began a rehab assignment in Gwinnett tonight, taking four at-bats while serving as the designated hitter. It was his first game action since the injury, and it opens the 20-day window allotted to position players for rehab stints. Barring a setback, he should be back in Atlanta by the middle of September.

Since Albies went down, the Braves have used a revolving door at second base. Orlando ArciaPhil Gosselin and Ehire Adrianza have each gotten some work, but the job has finally fallen on rookie Vaughn Grissom. A highly-regarded prospect, Grissom is off to a .312/.354/.468 start through his first 21 MLB games. Those numbers have been propped up by a .344 batting average on balls in play, but the 21-year-old has also already connected on three home runs and has only gone down on strikes 13 times (15.9% of his plate appearances).

How the Braves will divvy up playing time when everyone’s healthy remains to be seen. That’s an enviable problem to have, of course, with an infield of Matt Olson, Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley arguably the best in baseball. If the Braves want to keep Grissom’s bat in the lineup, the cleanest path to playing time could be at designated hitter, although that’d present its own complications.

The Braves have rotated hot-hitting backup catcher William Contreras through the DH spot, and they’ve occasionally used those at-bats to get Ronald Acuña Jr. off his feet. Acuña, who tore the ACL in his right knee last July, told reporters last night the surgically-repaired joint feels “terrible” (via Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Acuña has remained in the lineup and maintained that he’ll play through the pain for the rest of the season, but the Braves may want to continue easing his workload on defense before postseason play gets underway.

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