ATLANTA -- Ronald Acuna Jr. is back at the top of the lineup, Austin Riley has burst on the scene with authority and it appears Mike Foltynewicz might finally be heading in the right direction. The Braves certainly have reason to feel better than they did less than two weeks
ATLANTA -- Ronald Acuna Jr. is back at the top of the lineup, Austin Riley has burst on the scene with authority and it appears Mike Foltynewicz might finally be heading in the right direction. The Braves certainly have reason to feel better than they did less than two weeks ago.
A successful homestand came to a close with Sunday afternoon’s 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Brewers at SunTrust Park. But before Ben Gamel homered against the first pitch Wes Parsons threw, the Braves saw Foltynewicz provide some signs that he is physically healthy and ready to begin contributing to what has become a capable starting rotation.
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“If we get Folty back to where he was, that’s just going to make our club better,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s shown he can do it. From the last start to this start, he’s [been] through a whole lot. They did a lot of work, and that was really a good outing to build on.”
Had the recently released Jonny Venters and Parsons not struggled to protect an eight-run lead in the ninth inning of Friday’s series-opening win, the Braves wouldn’t have used Luke Jackson that night and likely would have turned to him during this series finale.
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But even with Gamel taking advantage of a short bullpen, the Braves can feel good about having won seven of their past nine games, including four of six during this homestand that pitted them against the Cardinals and Brewers. They will now embark on a seven-game road trip that will include stops in San Francisco and St. Louis.
“We’re right where we need to be,” Foltynewicz said. “The starting pitching has been awesome. The whole team has been awesome. We just need to be on the same page like we have been these past few days and then we’ll go from there. This is an exciting team to watch.”
While it has been encouraging to see Mike Soroka and Max Fried enjoy success during the early portions of their respective careers, the Braves need Foltynewicz to get back to where he was last year, when he posted a 2.85 ERA over 31 starts.
Foltynewicz was far from being that same guy, as he entered Sunday having produced an 8.02 ERA over four starts since coming off the injured list. His four-seamer, which averaged 96.3 mph last year, sat around 94.0 mph during these previous outings. His slider, which limited opponents to a .111 batting average last year, had surrendered a .323 average and .774 slugging percentage in the span.
There was reason to question if he was still bothered by the right elbow bone spur that forced him to miss most of Spring Training. Regardless of the reason, the Braves were ready to shut him down or send him down if he struggled again Sunday.
But Foltynewicz quieted concerns, as he limited the Brewers to two earned runs and three hits over a six-inning stint that ended earlier than expected. He surrendered Christian Yelich’s first-inning homer and hung a slider that Keston Hiura lined over the left-field wall in the fifth. But his fastball once again had life and, outside of that particular offering to Hiura, his slider once again looked like a weapon.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Foltynewicz said. “I felt like we broke off a pretty good outing today just with the mechanics. Just cleaning that up made all of my pitches a little cleaner.”
Foltynewicz’s four-seamer averaged a season-best 95.4 mph, and he got two of his three strikeouts with the slider. He credits his improvement to the mechanical adjustment he made by getting his hands back higher and out in front of his chest.
“It was a good outing for him to build on,” Snitker said. “That’s as positive as I’ve felt about him all year.”
Foltynewicz’s early exit was odd, given he had been effective with a low pitch count. The veteran pitcher said the heat affected him during the middle innings and he felt dizzy during a plate appearance he shouldn’t have been given to begin the bottom of the sixth.
Snitker said Jerry Blevins was warming up to face Eric Thames, who was due up second in the seventh. So, maybe Foltynewicz would have been given a chance to face one more batter had he not been affected by the heat.
Regardless, Foltynewicz exited this outing feeling good, which is something he had not previously experienced this season.
“We like to sugarcoat things, but a lot of things run through your head when you’re not doing well, especially when you know what you can do,” Foltynewicz said. “It’s good to have games like this, because all of the work is paying off. We’re still out there battling. It’s really easy to lay down and feel bad about yourself.”
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.