Chicago White Sox move Michael Soroka to the bullpen: ‘A lot of it is the mentality to what it takes to be here’

Chicago White Sox move Michael Soroka to the bullpen: ‘A lot of it is the mentality to what it takes to be here’

Michael Soroka feels like from a mechanical standpoint, he got back to where he intended to be during Sunday’s start against the Cleveland Guardians.

“Early on (in the season), I got out of whack, chasing a couple of things,” the right-hander told the Tribune on Tuesday afternoon. “I kind of found my way back to being closed and letting it rip longer, (and) started to time things up.

“I felt like the last one was one to build on and keep that going from here.”

That work, for the time being, will be out of the Chicago White Sox bullpen.

Manager Pedro Grifol announced the team would use Soroka in a relief role and that Brad Keller would be moving back into the rotation.

“We’re excited to do what Keller can do in the rotation,” Grifol said before Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Washington Nationals at Guaranteed Rate Field. The Sox lost the first game, 6-3. “I’ve seen him really good as a starter. We gave him that one start (May 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals), he did OK (three runs, five hits and five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings).

“And then Soroka, he’s got some adjustments to make that we feel can really help him. We did the same thing with (Tuesday’s Game 1 starter Chris) Flexen. He pitched out of the bullpen, he threw a couple times, threw the ball great. Now he’s in the rotation.”

Flexen had an 8.78 ERA after his first three starts. He made two relief appearances, where he had a 1.42 ERA and then moved back to the rotation, where he had a 1.69 ERA in his three most recent starts entering Tuesday.

Could it be a similar strategy for Soroka?

“Let’s take a step back, go in the bullpen, pitch with some length over there in the bullpen and see what happens,” Grifol said. “Doesn’t mean he’s going to be there permanently. It just means right now, ‘Let’s go ahead and get you back there, make some adjustments, give you the ball, maintain the length, try to not de-train and move forward.’”

Soroka is 0-5 with a 6.39 ERA in nine starts for the Sox after being acquired during the offseason as part of the six-player trade that sent reliever Aaron Bummer to the Atlanta Braves. Soroka earned All-Star honors, finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting and sixth for the NL Cy Young Award in 2019.

He made three starts in 2020 before suffering a torn right Achilles tendon on Aug. 3, 2020. He re-tore it in June 2021. He finished 2-2 with a 6.40 ERA and 29 strikeouts in seven games (six starts) with the Braves and went 4-4 with a 3.41 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 17 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2023.

Soroka has 24 strikeouts and 24 walks in 43 2/3 innings this season. He came into Tuesday tied for third in the majors in allowing the most walks and tied for first in surrendering the most home runs (10).

Soroka spoke with the Tribune on Tuesday before the Sox announced the move.

“A lot of it is the mentality to what it takes to be here on a daily basis in the big leagues,” Soroka said of trying to get closer to where he wants to be. “I feel as though there’s a lot of things that stuck with me that I didn’t realize were kind of eating at me. Some stuff and fear of injury, and fear of all that kind of stuff sticks with you.

“I feel that getting rid of that is coming. I thought I kicked that last year, but bad habits tend to return. I’ve got to do a good job of eliminating that from my mind and just going out and competing.”

Keller is in line to start during the weekend series against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. He has a 2.84 ERA in four appearances (one start).

Soroka would be used similar to Flexen’s time in the bullpen. If a pitcher made a short start, Soroka could be called on to follow.

“There were pitches that he threw in that Cleveland game that mimicked the pitches he threw in the (2019) playoff game (against the Cardinals),” Grifol said. “The difference was in the playoff game, it was one after the other, the consistency was impeccable. I learned from old-time scouts, if you see it once, it’s there. We’ve got to get it out of him.”

Grifol said he saw movement with his two-seamer on Sunday that mimicked 2019 and also an uptick in velocity. Soroka allowed four earned runs on four hits with four strikeouts and one walk in 5 1/3 innings in the 7-0 loss.

“Now it’s our responsibility, and his responsibility, to try to get that consistently like he had it,” Grifol said. “And there’s no doubt that I think he can. I believe in the player. I believe in his ability. It’s not like his velocity’s down, it’s not like his spin rate is not good, his breaking ball doesn’t look good. No.

“The velocity was up, the spin was good, the break was good. It just wasn’t as consistent as it was back in the day. So our responsibility now is to make sure we get to work and get it there. And if we do, everybody knows what he can be.”