Mike Soroka, the youngest pitcher in the majors, spent a month on the disabled list and faced one of baseball’s more formidable aces Wednesday in returning to the Braves rotation.
Soroka took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and outpitched Mets flamethrower Jacob deGrom in a 2-0 Braves afternoon win at SunTrust Park to complete a two-game sweep of the floundering Mets.
Freddie Freeman drove in both Braves runs with a single in the fourth inning and a two-out homer in the eighth off left-hander Jerry Blevins, Freeman’s 15th homer and fifth in seven games. He’s homered in three straight games.
“He’s a special talent,” Freeman said of Soroka, who pitched 6-1/3 innings and allowed one hit and one walk with four strikeouts. “I think everybody knew going into today that runs were going to be tough to score. We were able to get one off deGrom and Mike was obviously fantastic today.”
Freeman’s single scored Dansby Swanson, whose one-out double in the fourth was the first hit of the game for either team.
Soroka didn’t give up a hit until Michael Conforto’s infield single to start the seventh inning. The 20-year-old Canadian pitcher was replaced one strikeout later after throwing 74 pitches including 44 strikes.
“He was good -- he was really, really good,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who had set a limit of 85-90 pitches or 5-6 innings for Soroka, who had been on the DL recovering from a minor shoulder strain and pitched a total of eight innings in his two minor-league rehab starts.
“After the first pitch, you get right in, just like every other game,” said Soroka, who said nerves weren’t an issue in his fourth major league start and coming back from a strained shoulder. “I think getting out there, getting to warm up, getting the high-fives in the dugout, just feeling right at home -- that was pretty cool.”
The Braves have won nine of their past 12 home games, including four of six against the Mets in that stretch. The Mets already are through playing in Atlanta this season after going 3-6 in three series at SunTrust Park.
DeGrom (4-2) came in with a 1.57 ERA and allowed seven hits and one run in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. He retired the first 10 Braves before Swanson doubled in the fourth and raced home on a Freeman single that left fielder Brandon Nimmo failed to field cleanly.
“I was looking at (deGrom’s) pitch count, thinking, he’s going to throw nine innings, it’s going to be hard to get him out of the game,” Snitker said. “That was a big, big hit by Freddie.”
Soroka faced the minimum 18 batters in the first six innings, allowing only a Jay Bruce leadoff walk in the second inning and erasing him by inducing a double-play grounder from the next batter, Kevin Plawecki.
The Braves planned to give him a third rehab start, but reassessed after Julio Teheran went on the DL with a thumb injury. Soroka showed Wednesday that another minor-league rehab start would’ve been unnecessary, as the weak-hitting Mets – Nimmo was the only hitter in the lineup with an average above .240 -- were no match for him.
“I knew there were talks about a pitch count, but I knew as I could prove that I could execute, they were going to keep it rolling,” said Soroka, who nonetheless understood the decision to bring in left-hander A.J. Minter to face lefty hitters Nimmo and Jay Bruce with one out in the seventh.
“Handing the ball over to Minter – as much as you want to keep pitching in that situation, you realize there’s two lefties up and I think you’ve got one of the best left-handed relievers in the game coming out of the pen.”
Soroka (2-1) lowered his ERA to 2.57 in four major league starts, including two against the Mets, accounting for both of his wins. In his May 1 major league debut at New York, he allowed six hits and one run with no walks and five strikeouts in six innings of a 3-2 win against the Mets.
Asked if he thought early on that it might be a special day for Soroka, Snitker said, “In the limited time I’ve seen him, I’ve felt like that every time I see him pitch, really. He was really efficient, obviously. He was really good.”
The Braves’ top pitching prospect has allowed one or no earned runs in three of his four major league starts, and in two games against the Mets he has allowed only seven hits, one run and one walk with nine strikeouts in 12-1/3 innings.