ATLANTA -- Though defending their division title remains the priority, the Braves will spend the next few weeks getting a feel for whether their postseason plans should include the likes of Mike Foltynewicz, who threw five scoreless innings in a 7-2 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at
ATLANTA -- Though defending their division title remains the priority, the Braves will spend the next few weeks getting a feel for whether their postseason plans should include the likes of Mike Foltynewicz, who threw five scoreless innings in a 7-2 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park and then exited because he became overheated.
“I went down after [the top of the fifth] inning, and he looked like he was going to explode,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “His face was red and he said he [almost] passed out a couple times. He was throwing well.”
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It should be noted Foltynewicz nearly passed out long before learning the Nationals tallied seven ninth-inning runs to claim a dramatic win over the Mets on Tuesday night. The Braves -- who have won six in a row -- would have liked a little more comfort, but they’re satisfied with the 6 1/2-game lead they possess over the Nationals, who come to Atlanta to begin a four-game series on Thursday.
Foltynewicz will not pitch during this key series, but it looks like he may get four more starts over the remainder of the season. The former All-Star has certainly been better since he returned from his six-week demotion to the Triple-A level. But he hasn’t assured himself a spot in a four-man postseason rotation that could consist of Mike Soroka, Dallas Keuchel, Max Fried and Julio Teheran.
“The last couple [starts] have been OK,” Snitker said. “I just liked how he was under control tonight of everything. The last time out, he got to rushing a little bit. I thought today, he kept everything together and it was pretty good.”
It was unfortunate Foltynewicz was unable to continue after allowing two hits and pitching around three walks with the help of three ground-ball double plays, which matched the season total he carried into the outing. He wasn’t as impressive as he was while limiting the Mets to two hits over seven innings on Aug. 23. But he was more efficient than he’d been while lasting just 4 2/3 innings against the Dodgers on Aug. 17 and against the Blue Jays on Aug. 28.
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“I did everything I could today,” Foltynewicz said. “I ate well. You drink your stuff before a game, during a game and all that. It just happens sometimes with the heat down here. But I battled, got through it and feel a ton better now.”
There wasn’t necessarily reason to question whether Snitker limited Foltynewicz to 76 pitches for health reasons. With an expanded roster providing enhanced bullpen depth, it made sense to pull the 27-year-old right-hander, who has struggled when attempting to go through a lineup for a third time.
Foltynewicz has produced a 3.31 ERA in the six starts he’s made since returning to the Majors. During the past five starts he’d made entering Tuesday, he limited opponents to a .235 batting average and .661 OPS the first two times through the order. Opponents hit .367 with a 1.124 OPS against him the third time through the order.
“When the playoffs come around you don’t have as many chances to be around as long,” Foltynewicz said. “But you’re still trying to win ballgames. Washington is still on our butts. You want to go out there and save the bullpen by just going out there and eating as many innings as you can. That’s your job as a starting pitcher.”
As the Braves make plans for their postseason pitching staff, they will evaluate performances over the season’s final weeks, opponents and splits, which include the results garnered when navigating a lineup for a third time.
Here’s a look at how each of the Braves starters’ have fared dating back to Aug. 1:
OPS first two times through a lineup: Soroka (.571), Fried (.626), Foltynewicz (.654), Keuchel (.701), Teheran (.758)
OPS the third time through a lineup: Teheran (.532), Soroka (.823), Fried (.875), Keuchel (.943), Foltynewicz (1.124)
Obviously, Foltynewicz is far from the only starter the Braves would be reluctant to push too far, and it’s certainly surprising to see Teheran has recently been the most effective the third time through the order.
Regardless of who fills the rotation, there’s seemingly a need for the Braves to carry at least one reliever capable of completing multiple innings to bridge the gap to the primary relievers during the postseason.
Bryse Wilson was called up on Tuesday and immediately gained a chance to audition for the role. But his resume was tarnished when he allowed a pair of seventh-inning runs. The Braves could give the role to the left-handed Fried, who might present better matchups against certain opponents.
Or the role could be given to Foltynewicz, who has at least made strides since he was demoted on June 22 with a 6.37 ERA through 11 starts. His slider has been more effective and he’s found success with both his curveball and two-seamer. But most importantly, he’s regained confidence, an essential asset whether he’s used as a starter or a reliever.
“Sometimes when things aren’t going well, it’s hard to go out there and throw a strike without thinking it’s going to get hit,” Foltynewicz said. “All that stuff is behind me. I’m working to get better between each start. I’m just taking it day by day.”
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.