Outfielder Jorge Soler has been cleared by the MLB Joint Health and Safety Committee to return to the Braves active roster, the club announced. He’s active for tonight’s NLCS Game 5, with Cristian Pache removed from the active roster in a corresponding move. Soler is not in the Braves’ starting lineup but will be available off the bench.
Soler had been ineligible since Game 4 of the Braves’ NLDS matchup with the Brewers, when he was removed from the team’s starting lineup only a few hours before first pitch. He was later confirmed to have received a positive COVID test and to have entered isolation. Defensive whiz Pache replaced him on the Braves’ roster for that series and was again designated as Soler’s replacement on their NLCS roster.
Still only two years removed from leading the AL with 48 home runs in 2019, Soler has experienced something of a renaissance since moving to the Braves at the trade deadline. After posting a measly .192/.288/.370 line across 94 games with the Royals, the 29-year-old regained his form with the bat, putting up a .269/.358/.524 triple-slash in 55 games as the Braves’ primary right fielder. He moved into the leadoff spot for the Braves in September and had remained there for the team’s first three games against the Brewers. Eddie Rosario and Dansby Swanson have served as the Braves’ leadoff hitter in Soler’s absence.
How Braves manager Brian Snitker plans to use Soler moving forward remains to be seen, though Snitker has described Soler as “ready to go” and as “a nice weapon off the bench” tonight (via Jeff Schultz of The Athletic). Indeed, his return clearly strengthens a bench that had been relying on light-hitting utilityman Ehire Adrianza as its top pinch-hitting option. Soler’s absence had actually solved something of a dilemma for Snitker; outfielders Rosario and Joc Pederson have both had wildly productive postseasons, and neither is considered a viable defensive alternative to Adam Duvall (the 2021 NL RBI champ) in center field.
Should the Braves advance to the World Series, Soler will likely be Snitker’s first choice at DH, his primary position in Kansas City. How the outfield would shake out for games played in Atlanta — or, indeed, for potential Games 6 and 7 against the Dodgers — remains very much an open question. Pederson had been the odd man out for the first three games of the Milwaukee series, while Rosario was left out of the starting lineup for Game 4. A glut of productive outfielders is, of course, an enviable problem for the Braves to face, but it does make Snitker’s job a bit more complicated.
Though the Braves managed to build their present 3-1 series lead over the Dodgers without him, Soler — alongside fellow mid-season additions Pederson, Rosario, and Duvall — played a major role in turning around what had appeared to be a lost season in Atlanta after losing Ronald Acuña Jr. to a torn ACL on July 10. With their fully remade outfield, the Braves went 37-20 after the deadline en route to securing their fourth consecutive NL East title.