By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATLANTA (AP) — When Mike Soroka’s teammates heard him scream, they feared the worst.
When they saw him being helped off the field, unable to put any weight on his right leg, they knew it was bad.
“If Mike Soroka can’t walk off the field, you know it’s pretty serious,” said Freddie Freeman, the Atlanta Braves’ slugging first baseman.
One of baseball’s brightest young pitching stars, Soroka is done for the year after tearing his right Achilles tendon during a seemingly routine play Monday night against the New York Mets.
On a grounder to Freeman’s right, Soroka broke toward first to cover the bag.
He made it only one step.
Soroka tumbled to the ground in serious pain, got up for a few tentative steps, then dropped to his knees on the infield grass.
“I heard him yell,” Freeman said. “It’s just a terrible injury for somebody so young, so bright, so determined to be great at this game.”
The loss of Soroka is certainly a huge blow to the two-time reigning NL East champions, who already were struggling to put together a solid five-man rotation.
Former ace Mike Foltynewicz was sent outright to minor league camp after one dismal start and seems unlikely to be of help anytime soon, considering his noticeable drop in velocity since returning from the nearly four-month shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Sean Newcomb has been roughed up in his two starts. Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint have shown promise but not nearly enough consistency to assure themselves permanent spots in the rotation.
Max Fried, a 17-game winner last season, is the only starter the Braves can really count on at this point.
“Somebody else is going to get an opportunity,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Things like that happen. These guys will regroup. Somebody is going to get an opportunity to do something really good. Our young guys are going to continue to get better. We’re going to be fine.”
Freeman sounded a bit more pessimistic.
“There’s no sugarcoating it,” he said after a 7-2 loss to Jacob deGrom and the Mets.
New York had a rough night as well, losing three infielders to various injuries. But none were thought to be long-term issues.
Certainly, nothing as serious as Soroka’s injury.
“It kind of makes you sick, honestly,” Mets outfielder Michael Conforto said. “He’s a bright star and we know he’ll come back.”
Soroka turned 23 on Tuesday but already displayed enormous poise and command of his pitches during his first full season in the big leagues.
A native of Canada, Soroka went 13-4 with a dazzling 2.68 ERA in 2019, earning a spot in the All-Star Game. He finished second in NL Rookie of the Year balloting and sixth for the Cy Young Award, leading the Braves to give him the opening day nod when the shortened season finally began less than two weeks ago.
Now, just 11 games into a 60-game sprint, the Braves have a huge hole at the top of their rotation.
“When you lose, in my mind, one of the top pitching arms in this entire game for the whole season,” Freeman said, “it’s pretty tough.”
The season has been greatly affected by the deadly, contagious virus, striking two teams hard and prompting several prominent players to opt out.
But Soroka’s misfortune was simply a baseball injury, a freakish occurrence that dealt the game another costly blow.
“It’s a weird thing,” Snitker said, looking a bit shell-shocked after delivering the grim diagnosis. “When I saw him on the ground, I knew it was something bad.”