ATLANTA -- When evaluating the Braves’ bid to defend a division crown, it was easy to assume they would need another strong season from Mike Foltynewicz. But now that they have their All-Star hurler back, it has become more appropriate to question how long they can afford to keep him
ATLANTA -- When evaluating the Braves’ bid to defend a division crown, it was easy to assume they would need another strong season from Mike Foltynewicz. But now that they have their All-Star hurler back, it has become more appropriate to question how long they can afford to keep him in their rotation.
Foltynewicz was again searching for answers after allowing three home runs during Tuesday night’s outing, a 14-3 loss to the Cardinals at SunTrust Park. His fastball velocity was down again and his once-effective slider continued to be far too inconsistent. Physically, he says his right elbow is fine. But his psyche has been damaged over the four starts made since returning from the injured list.
“It’s tough when you had success like that last year and then you come out of the gates and your first four [starts] aren’t pretty. It’s something you’ve got to change quick,” Foltynewicz said after allowing eight earned runs over 4 2/3 innings against a Cardinals club that entered having tallied one run or none in six of its past 11 games.
• Box score
Foltynewicz missed most of Spring Training and didn’t debut until April 27 because of a right elbow bone spur that began bothering him during his Feb. 24 spring debut. The Braves were hoping his recent struggles were a product of rust, but it’s hard to continue to make excuses for the 27-year-old right-hander, who has made four starts since totaling at least 85 pitches in each of his final two rehab starts.
If the Braves were to place Foltynewicz back on the injured list, they could give a start to highly regarded prospect Kyle Wright, who showed some promise as he allowed two earned runs over six innings for Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday. But Braves manager Brian Snitker was noncommittal when asked whether it would be best for his veteran hurler to skip a start.
“We’ll see where he’s at [Wednesday], and then the side day, and then go from there,” Snitker said.
The 8.02 ERA Foltynewicz has produced through his first four starts tells just a portion of the story. The four-seam fastball that averaged 96.3 mph in 2018 has not topped 94.7 mph in any of this year’s outings. The 93.5 mph average produced Tuesday is the second-lowest of any of his 100 career starts that have included at least 50 pitches.
Yeah, the velocity is down, but it’s still at a level where he can compete if this is indeed the new normal with which he must get used to for the time being.
“It’s a game of adjustments,” Foltynewicz said. “I tell a lot of the younger dudes about that. Maybe it’s time I start listening to myself. I’ve just got to go out there and make adjustments. I know I don’t have the velo right now. Maybe I’ve got to learn how to pitch with it now and hit my spots better.”
When Foltynewicz produced a 2.85 ERA over 31 starts last year, he relied on the high-octane fastball and a slider that limited opponents to a .111 batting average and .186 slugging percentage. Mechanics, hesitance or a combination of the two have led to much different results this year.
On Tuesday, Marcell Ozuna’s three-run homer in the first and Yadier Molina’s three-run shot in the fifth were hit against Foltynewicz’s slider. Opponents have tallied four homers against the slider, two more than they did over the 183 innings the Atlanta hurler completed last year.
“Maybe I’m trying to overthrow my slider, trying to make it better than it is,” Foltynewicz said. “All this stuff comes into play. I get to two strikes and then all of a sudden, my mind goes blank, or I have a brain fart or something, and you leave all your pitches up in the zone.”
Truth be told, Foltynewicz just seems lost as he searches for a solution. He wonders if he is overthrowing his slider but knows others have suggested he has appeared hesitant while completing some of his pitches this year. This would certainly be understandable given the fact he could still be attempting to gain trust in the elbow after he was sidelined with an ailment through all of March.
“I’ve just got to get that aggressiveness back,” Foltynewicz said.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.