ATLANTA — Mike Soroka already went through nine grueling months of rehab after blowing out his right Achilles tendon.
Now he's doing it all again.
The burgeoning Atlanta Braves star spoke Monday for the first time since getting the shocking news that he re-tore his Achilles and would need another major operation.
"This process is not something I'd wish on somebody,'' said Soroka, who was sitting in with the Braves broadcast team for a game against the New York Yankees. "But I know I'll be stronger from it. I'm looking forward to that day when I can look back and draw strength from this entire process.''
Soroka, who made the All-Star Game as a rookie in 2019, has not pitched since the initial injury three starts into the pandemic-delayed 2020 season.
He had hoped to be ready to return early this season — he even pitched in a game late in spring training — only to suffer a setback in his recovery that required another surgical procedure.
Then, while walking toward the home clubhouse at Truist Park in May, not long after a protective boot had been removed from his leg, Soroka completely tore the tendon for the second time.
"I wasn't even really `walking' walking yet,'' Soroka recalled. "I was just kind of hobbling along, putting some pressure under the ground and getting the heel up. About 10 feet away from the entryway door here at Truist, it went `bang.' I don't think any of us believed it.''
Now, Soroka won't return to the Braves until sometime in 2022 — at the earliest.
"Nobody had ever really seen this happen that far into the rehab process,'' he said. "We had gotten through so many hurdles. I had pitched in a spring training game. It's not like we were fresh in the rehab process.''
"It floored me,'' Soroka added. "That moment was without a doubt one of the hardest moments of my life.''
While the prognosis for a full recovery is generally not as favourable for those who re-tear the Achilles tendon, Soroka said the doctors took additional steps in the second surgery to make the area stronger.
They graphed part of a hamstring onto the tendon to give it extra stability, and used older-style sutures — which are a bit thicker than what's normally used — to further strengthen the leg.
"It's never a sure thing. Sometimes weird things happen,'' Soroka said. "If anything, it will be stronger than it ever will be again. That's going to be the goal at least.''
Still only 24, Soroka was expected to the leader of a young Braves rotation after he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in his first full year in the big leagues. In addition to making the All-Star Game, he finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting and sixth for the Cy Young Award.
This ordeal certainly shook his confidence.
"You go nine months though a rehab process and essentially it doesn't work, you feel like you failed,'' Soroka said. "You immediately go back to, `What could I have done differently?' and `What did I do wrong?' But you find out that maybe you didn't do anything wrong. You just couldn't change it.''
He conceded that it was hard to deal with having nothing to show for the extended rehab he went through the first time.
"In some ways physically, you know those last nine months were kind of a waste,'' Soroka said. "That's probably the worst part of it. Getting over that, I learned a lot about myself.''
While he's now assured of missing most of two full years before he's able to pitch again, Soroka remains confident of making a full recovery.
"We're making progress every day,'' he said. "It's been fun to see.''