ATLANTA -- When you’ve started what proved to be the ugliest inning in your franchise’s postseason history, you aren’t going to be demoralized by the results of an exhibition game, especially one that reintroduced you to pitching to an opponent for the first time in more than four months.
But Mike Foltynewicz certainly wasn’t hiding his frustration as he spoke to reporters after surrendering six runs through the first five innings of the Braves’ 10-9 walk-off exhibition win over the Marlins on Tuesday night at Truist Park. The veteran hurler allowed three consecutive homers within a span of four pitches in the third and saw his once-electric fastball top out at 91.4 mph.
“I know the [velocity] board ain’t right out there,” Foltynewicz said. “I’m throwing the ball fine. It’s never fun throwing in the rain for five innings. My cleats were a mess and I couldn’t get a grip for the ball. We didn’t have any rosin out there. So it is whatever.”
Unlike when he surrendered seven of the 10 first-inning runs the Cardinals scored in Game 5 of last year’s National League Division Series, Foltynewicz doesn’t have to worry about having allowed the Marlins nine hits and six earned runs over 4 1/3 innings.
This was just an exhibition game. But having spent the past couple weeks restricted to pitching to teammates in intrasquad settings, this was the only true tune-up he will have before making his season debut on Monday against the Rays. So this outing certainly didn’t produce one last confidence boost.
“[The velocity] was down from what we’re used to,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I talked to him between innings and sent [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] out to make sure nothing was wrong. He assured me everything was good. It was just that he didn’t like the elements and things like that.”
While Marlins starter José Ureña’s fastball sat around 95 mph and touched 97 mph, Foltynewicz’s heater rested between 89-91.4 mph. The 28-year-old Braves hurler’s four-seamer averaged 94.8 mph last year and 96.3 mph during his career-best 2018 season.
Snitker said during intrasquad games played over the past two weeks, Foltynewicz’s velocity was higher than it was on Tuesday night.
“My fastball is coming out where I need it to be, so I’m not worried about that,” Foltynewicz said.
Jonathan Villar’s solo shot was the only of the three consecutive home runs to be hit against the fastball. Jorge Alfaro and Miguel Rojas tallied the other homers against a curveball, which is a pitch Foltynewicz used just 10.1 percent of the time last year.
“The fastball away to Villar, it was a good spot, it's just getting the bat on the ball with a little bit of velo,” Foltynewicz said. “It was humid and hot out there, so the ball was carrying a little bit. I didn’t care about those three pitches. They were all solo shots. They were somewhat decent pitches.”
When Greg Maddux was with the Braves, he often said, “Hitters don’t hit home runs, pitchers throw them.”
That might not be 100 percent true, and while avoiding the trio of homers would have been more encouraging, Foltynewicz insists he feels strong heading into the season. He turned things around after allowing 15 homers through his first eight starts (44 1/3 innings) in 2019, and was much improved after a stint in the Minors.
This year's 60-game season will not afford anybody much time to make adjustments. So when there isn’t much to evaluate, a significant velocity drop is certainly reason to be concerned about what might occur when the results begin to matter.
“I’ll trust him that he feels good,” Snitker said. “We’ll see.”