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Ready to turn corner, Foltynewicz finds form

@mlbbowman
February 25, 2020

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- When Mike Foltynewicz made his Grapefruit League season debut in the Braves’ 4-4 tie against the Twins on Tuesday at CoolToday Park, he savored the chance to further distance himself from the ugly ending of his far-too-often frustrating 2019 season.

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- When Mike Foltynewicz made his Grapefruit League season debut in the Braves’ 4-4 tie against the Twins on Tuesday at CoolToday Park, he savored the chance to further distance himself from the ugly ending of his far-too-often frustrating 2019 season.

“I’ve been really itching,” Foltynewicz said. “The nerves were more than usual just because of what I ended with. I wanted my teammates to know who I am, why I’m here and what I can do. It’s a good start to get that one out of the way in a good fashion and put 2019 behind you.”

The Braves know Foltynewicz is capable of getting back to where he was in 2018, when he earned his first All-Star selection. They saw him start to regain that form when he finished strong at the end of last year and threw a gem in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. But they also saw the pain he felt after recording only one out in the 10-run first inning the Cardinals produced in Game 5 of that series.

Foltynewicz has appreciated the support he has received from friends and family members over the past four months. But their words were not necessarily as therapeutic as the chance to once again step on the mound and compete. The 28-year-old hurler breezed through a perfect first inning and then notched two of his three strikeouts after Trevor Larnach led off the second inning with a home run.

As Foltynewicz recorded those three K’s and allowed only that one hit during his spring debut, he opted not to use his slider and curveball. He is easing himself into this spring, which is something he didn’t do when his right elbow began bothering him as he aggressively threw sliders during his 2019 spring debut against the Astros.

Foltynewicz missed the remainder of Spring Training and didn’t make his regular-season debut until April 27. The inability to make his normal preparations, combined with lingering concerns about the bone spur in his elbow, led to the struggles that eventually had him optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett in June. He finally hit his stride near the end of August, leading up to when he limited the Cards to three hits over seven scoreless innings in Game 2 of the NLDS.

Five days later, he matched the shortest postseason start in franchise history. But the evolution of this next chapter will allow him to continue creating what he hopes will be fonder memories.

“[Tuesday] was a heck of a lot better than the way it ended a year ago,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That was good. That was nice. He should feel good about it.”

Smith, Ozuna debut
Two of the Braves’ biggest offseason additions -- left fielder Marcell Ozuna and left-handed reliever Will Smith -- both made their respective spring debuts on Tuesday. Ozuna went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Smith recorded a strikeout while working a perfect third inning.

“[Smith] looked like he was in midseason form,” Snitker said. “It looked like he could go out and start the season tomorrow. That guy has a lot of confidence in himself. I look at him and see an old throwback reliever.”

Wright stuff
Kyle Wright might be an underdog in the battle for one of the Braves’ two rotation spots. But the young right-hander made a good impression as he recorded two strikeouts over two innings on Tuesday. Snitker has not yet decided whether Wright will start or once again enter as a reliever in his next appearance, during which he’ll be tabbed to complete three innings.

“I saw more of a poised and confident guy out there for the two innings,” Snitker said. “That was a good start for him.”

Taking advantage
A year ago, catcher Shea Langeliers was at Baylor University recovering from a broken left hamate bone and wondering how his Draft status might be affected. The Braves took him with the ninth overall pick and are now giving him an immediate chance to show what he can do in Grapefruit League action.

Langeliers impressed with the elite 1.87 pop time recorded on one of his throws to second base on Saturday. He showed pop with his bat Tuesday when he hit a two-run homer off Caleb Thielbar in the seventh inning.

“This is a great opportunity for him to get some exposure and be around these guys,” Snitker said. “He handled the big leaguers fine catching [them]. This is all going to be a good experience for him.”

Up next
Sean Newcomb will make his Grapefruit League season debut when the Braves travel to Sarasota to play the Orioles on Wednesday afternoon. Newcomb found success in the bullpen last year, but the Braves are giving him another chance to show his potential as a starter. The lefty's bid to be in the rotation on Opening Day improved when the club learned that Cole Hamels will miss at least three weeks with a sore left shoulder. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.

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