Atlanta Braves right-hander Michael Soroka and Athletics righty Paul Blackburn are slated to make season debuts Monday afternoon when clubs at the opposite end of the standings in their leagues open a three-game interleague series in Oakland.
Soroka hasn't pitched in the majors since Aug. 3, 2020, a game against the New York Mets during which he tore his right Achilles tendon.
He had surgery, then tore the same Achilles tendon while rehabbing, causing him to miss not only the remainder of the 2020 season, but also the entirety of the 2021 and 2022 campaigns.
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos announced Sunday that Soroka stamped himself fully healthy in eight rehab starts at Triple-A Gwinnett, during which the 25-year-old went 1-2 with a 4.33 ERA in 35 1/3 innings.
"Soroka is doing really well," Anthopoulos said. "I saw his last start. He had two in a row that were good. We believe he's ready to help our team."
Soroka is 15-6 with a 2.86 ERA in 37 big-league starts over his three-year career. He has never faced the A's.
The timing of Soroka's comeback is perfect, potential batterymate Travis d'Arnaud noted before Atlanta's 11-4 home win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday with the Braves currently missing Max Fried (forearm) and Kyle Wright (shoulder).
"It would help us tremendously. You've got another All-Star coming back," d'Arnaud said. "It's pretty special to think we have the starting-pitching depth to weather the storm like we have."
Sunday's win was Atlanta's 32nd of the season, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for most in the National League. The NL East-leading Braves salvaged a 5-5 split on a homestand that featured visits from the Seattle Mariners and the Dodgers before the Phillies arrived.
The victory came in a nationally televised night game, which didn't allow the Braves to land in Oakland after the cross-country flight until well into the California morning. To add insult to injury, the A's scheduled a late-afternoon holiday start (5:07 p.m. PT).
Oakland will show up saddled with an 11-game losing streak but with a comeback story of its own in Blackburn. He hasn't pitched since last August, when he was shelved for the season due to right middle finger inflammation. Blackburn ended the year 7-6 with a 4.28 ERA in 21 starts.
The 29-year-old cracked a fingernail scraping dirt out of his spikes during spring training, then developed a blister in his rehab. He also spent time on paternity leave when his wife gave birth to the couple's second child on May 5.
Blackburn made a combined six rehab starts for Class-A Stockton and Triple-A Las Vegas, going 0-0 with a 7.50 ERA.
A six-year veteran, the San Francisco Bay Area native insists his return is more about providing a positive role model for his younger teammates during a season in which the A's have the majors' worst record by a wide margin.
"Being the older guy, it's kind of my job to do that with younger guys," he said. "At the end of the year ... whatever our record is, is our record. But I hope everyone just kind of takes a step back and says, 'You know what? I got better this year.'"
Blackburn pitched well in his only previous start against the Braves, allowing three hits and one unearned run in six innings during his major league debut on July 1, 2017. The A's lost the game 4-3.
--Field Level Media