There are a thousand tasks this spring of greater importance to Mike Foltynewicz than putting trolls in their place. He knows this, surely. What a colossal waste of time and energy it is to swim in the shallow end of social media.
If the need arises ...
“That’s the world we live in. I (sometimes) give it back to them,” said the Braves starter who, as the face of last season’s National League Division Series implosion against St. Louis and the possessor of a career as erratic as a squirrel caught in traffic, can be subject to a most colorful bouquet of Twitter and Instagram comments.
Why acknowledge the noise at all – like the one time early last season Foltynewicz suggested a couple of his detractors were “ignorant morons.”
“Oh, yeah, you have to. If they came up and said it to my face, I’d give it right back to them,” he said. “If they say it on social media, I’ll be somewhat nicer about it.”
Beyond learning Folty’s keys to social-media management, the beginning of this spring camp was a time to assess the Braves starter for scars and traumatic stress. After all, his last time on the mound was a John Carpenter movie thinly disguised as a playoff game.
Starting the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS against St. Louis, Foltynewicz walked the leadoff guy and, well, that was the highlight. The Cardinals gave him an out on a sacrifice bunt, and he would get no other before he was lifted after eight batters.
There certainly were other issues in what became a 10-run first-inning avalanche – most glaringly a misplayed ball by Freddie Freeman that gave the inning a real downward tilt. But Foltynewicz is the most convenient target. As a hard-thrower who in the period of a year went from the All-Star game (2018) to lost and demoted to Triple-A, to recalled and renewed in the second half of 2019, that’s kind of his lot. Nobody knows quite what to make of him, so the default position is ridicule.
How much the Braves might need the good Folty in their rotation was highlighted Wednesday when the reports of Cole Hamels’ shoulder soreness hit the fan.
So, here we begin another preseason wondering about the frayed connection between perhaps the Braves most talented arm and the head that is supposed to rule it.
Inspecting Foltynewicz for scar tissue as closely as seemed proper, I noted none. Plenty of ink, yeah. But no lingering outward signs from that October pummeling.
Instead, Foltynewicz preached perspective: “When things happen bad like that, I know fans are going to be upset about it. But me as a player, I got to wake up and I’ve got 2020 to get ready for. ... How am I going to support my family this next year and dominate this season? Take some time, clear your head – these are the things you learn over the years. Last year’s over. It’s in the past, and we’re going forward from here.”
Last season Foltynewicz was sidetracked by early bone-spur issues that so disturbed him that he had to go to Gwinnett to get right. And when he did, “He was arguably our best starter the last two months of the year,” GM Alex Anthopoulos said. In fact, his last month, he was 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA.
He’s intent upon easing into this spring, curbing his natural inclination to throw too hard, too soon. He’s going to do it right this time, he promises.
“I feel healthy, I feel good, I feel loose. The best I ever felt in my life,” Foltynewicz said.
“I’m right where I need to be. My arm has been feeling good. I’m not really ripping sliders and curveballs right now. I’ll slowly, gradually get into that. I’m going to listen to my arm rather than going full-bore.”
The Braves are choosing to characterize Foltynewicz’s last outing as an “aberration.” That’s a fancy word manager Brian Snitker actually used.
They hasten to remind everyone that the same Foltyznewicz who faltered in Game 5 was crucial in Game 2 of the NLDS, pitching seven shutout innings.
In support of Foltynewicz, the Braves appeared willing to set aside that most ugly one-third of an inning. What other choice do they have? “There’s a huge sample size about how good he was in big moments and stepping up in big games,” Anthopoulos said, referring to the second half of ’19.
“I just want him to put together that full year,” Snitker said. “I think that’s what his eyes are on right now – to having that good, solid, complete year. The biggest thing is getting through the spring healthy.”
And here in this spring of instruction, this time of recalibration and refocus, I’ll throw out another piece of advice, free of charge. Just trying to help you out, kid.
Ignore the trolls. Free yourself from the circular firing squad of Twitter and the like.
Just let it go.
It’s a game you can’t win.
It’s the 10-run inning of social interaction.
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