The Braves provided some notable updates yesterday on a pair of important righties, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman was among those to report. Both top pitching prospect Mike Soroka and closer Arodys Vizcaino will need to rest their ailing shoulders for a few more weeks before returning to the hill.
Right now, there are about nine weeks of regular-season play remaining. The two hurlers will need not only to work through a throwing progression, but also undertake rehab work before getting back to the majors.
Getting all the way back to the majors would be an especially difficult proposition for Soroka, who has been on the shelf for about a month. Though he’s said not to be dealing with any structural issues in the joint, shoulder inflammation had already forced a stretch on the DL earlier in the year. Clearly, the club is committed to exercising caution, much as it might wish to have Soroka available down the stretch and into the postseason.
It’s a bit different for Vizcaino, who is a veteran pitcher entering his final season of arbitration eligibility. As a reliever, his path back will be shorter. While he has also experienced prior shoulder woes this season, the Braves will understandably be somewhat more aggressive with trying to get him back in game action.
As Snitker explained, there’s still good reason to think that Vizcaino will return, though risk remains:
“I don’t see Viz missing the year. I think at some point — because he’s a one-inning guy — we can get him back. I say that, but until we get him throwing, we don’t know.”
What’s most interesting about these developments is how they’ll impact the team’s deadline moves. Both the rotation and bullpen would clearly be better units with Soroka and Vizcaino, respectively. GM Alex Anthopoulos has said all along he’d like to wait until he has all the information needed to determine priorities. The decision point is now nearly upon him.
With regard to the rotation, the fact that there’s no longer a clear path back for Soroka makes it more likely than ever that the Braves will push to land an established, controllable starter. The unit has at least one hole, and that’s before considering the fact that all of the top four existing options have rather significantly outperformed their peripherals by measure of major ERA estimators. Young lefty Max Fried is moving back toward the majors on a rehab assignment, as David O’Brien of The Athletic recently tweeted, though he’s hardly a sure thing and arguably won’t be capable of delivering the kind of near-term impact the team needs (or, at least, wants).
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In the pen, it’s certainly encouraging to hear that the team can reasonably hope for a contribution from Vizcaino down the stretch. But there are no guarantees. And the relief unit was already an area that the Braves likely would have targeted for at least some improvement. From here on out, every game is a high-leverage one given the situation in the NL East, so late-inning arms will be of critical importance. Waiting and hoping for Vizcaino to return, then, likely won’t be sufficient.
Anthopoulos said just yesterday that he’s open to adding in multiple areas. In addition to the rotation and relief corps, he cited “a bat” as a possibility. (Improving the mix on the left side of the infield still seems the likeliest course in that regard.) The GM also indicated he’s interested in securing controllable assets if possible. Indeed, that may be necessary if he hopes to land impact arms, as there are relatively few rental hurlers that figure to represent significant upgrades and multiple other teams that will pursue them.