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Acuna's HR not enough as Folty struggles again

@mlbbowman
May 9, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was praising a Braves lineup that finally did some damage against him, and Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was happy to discuss the progress he saw during Mike Foltynewicz's latest start. But there certainly wasn’t reason for the Braves to be feeling any consolation

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was praising a Braves lineup that finally did some damage against him, and Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was happy to discuss the progress he saw during Mike Foltynewicz's latest start.

But there certainly wasn’t reason for the Braves to be feeling any consolation as they exited Dodger Stadium after Wednesday night’s 9-4 loss to the Dodgers. They lost for the 21st time in their last 27 games here and in the process gained the reminder that their pitching woes extend beyond what remains a leaky bullpen.

“That’s not a positive getting to Kershaw,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “When you get to their ace like that, you need to win those games. We just have not clicked this year. You’ve seen glimpses of it, and then it’s gone.”

Box score

Kershaw allowed as many earned runs (four) over 6 2/3 innings as he had over his previous nine starts (60 2/3 innings) against Atlanta, dating back to Game 1 of the 2013 National League Division Series. Ronald Acuña Jr.'s two-run homer in the fourth was only the second homer the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner has allowed over 96 2/3 innings (including the postseason) against the Braves. Freeman had hit the previous one back in 2011, when Acuna was 11 years old.

But damaging a long-time nemesis doesn’t overshadow the need to address a current area of concern. When A.J. Minter retired one of six batters faced in a two-run seventh and Justin Turner tallied his fourth homer of the series in the eighth against Jacob Webb, there was again reason to criticize the Braves’ bullpen.

Still, while the relief corps has been maligned since Opening Day, there might be equal reason to be concerned about a starting rotation that currently counts Mike Soroka and Max Fried as its most reliable assets. The Braves’ rotation has posted a 4.48 ERA over the past 17 games. Soroka and Fried have combined to produce a 2.90 ERA within this span. The veterans -- Foltynewicz, Julio Teheran and Kevin Gausman -- have produced a 5.40 ERA.

Foltynewicz missed Spring Training because of a bone spur in his right elbow, and he has not rekindled last year’s success during any of the three starts made since he returned from the injured list. The 27-year-old hurler allowed five runs over six innings against the Dodgers and recorded only two strikeouts. This was only the fourth time in his career he went this distance and failed to record at least three strikeouts.

“Regardless of the score, line or whatever, I thought his stuff took a big step forward today,” Snitker said. “It was good for him to stay out there for six innings. I think his stuff was a marked improvement, which is a good sign.”

Foltynewicz delivered a center-cut curveball that Enrique Hernandez drilled for a two-run homer in the second, and Max Muncy added a solo shot against an elevated 96.3 mph fastball in the third. Muncy also produced an RBI single against an 0-2 slider in the decisive two-run fifth.

“I need to get back to executing [my slider] against lefties, getting it down on their back foot with two strikes,” Foltynewicz said.

Considering opponents were 6-for-16 with two doubles and two homers against Foltynewicz's slider in his previous two starts, you’d have thought the right-hander would have been happy with the fact that Muncy’s RBI single accounted for the only hit registered in the nine Dodgers at-bats that concluded against this pitch.

But the All-Star pitcher estimated that only five to seven of the 25 sliders he threw in this game were what he considers to be good. At the same time, he was pleased that he touched 97 mph before his velocity started to taper during the latter stages of this 90-pitch outing.

Foltynewicz’s four-seam fastball averaged 94.4 mph and his two-seamer averaged 95.1. Still, the average velocity he has produced with both of these pitches within each of his first three starts has been lower than it was in any game during the 2018 season. Both of these pitches averaged slightly more than 96 mph over the course of last year.

“[High velocity] was a weapon last year and all the years in the past when you’ve got 98 or 99 in your back pocket," Foltynewicz said. "I was sitting there early in the game. It’s a little discouraging when after all this hard work, it’s 97 or 98 in the first and it kind of drops off in the later innings. If that’s the case, we’re just going to have to learn to pitch like that. But I really think the velo is going to get back.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.