Braves could be scrambling for starters after dropping Foltynewicz

When spring training opened in February – yes, that seems like a very long time ago – the Braves figured they’d have a starting rotation this season of Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz and possibly Felix Hernandez.

Only two of those pitchers remain in the rotation, less than a week into the delayed and shortened season.

Hamels is on the 45-day injured list with left triceps tendinitis, pushing back his Braves debut until at least September. Hernandez opted out of the season because of the coronavirus risk. And Foltynewicz, stunningly, was designated for assignment after his first start of the season Monday night.

That leaves the Braves with a rotation of Soroka, Fried and three question marks.

Sean Newcomb, who opened spring training in competition with Hernandez, had a lackluster start Sunday, needing 82 pitches to get through 3-1/3 innings. Rookie Kyle Wright made his first start of the season Tuesday night at Tampa Bay. The other spot in the rotation is very much up in the air after the decision on Foltynewicz.

“In 60 games, 162 games, three months, six months, I don’t know that you ever have enough pitching,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Tuesday. “You just always are looking for it. It seems like none of it ever goes to waste, that’s for sure.

“That’s why we keep trying to develop numbers and put yourself in the position to accumulate pitchers. ... We had good depth coming in, and we’re tapping into all of it right now, that’s for sure.”

What had been Foltynewicz’s turn in the rotation will come up again Saturday at Truist Park against the Mets. Touki Toussaint potentially could start that game, depending on whether he is needed out of the bullpen before then.

“It’s just going to depend on how we get there,” Snitker said. “Touki is in a good spot; his next next outing, he’d be able to go 75-80 pitches.”

Toussaint pitched 2-2/3 innings in relief of Foltynewicz on Monday and was charged with six runs on five hits.

Other options to start include include veterans Jhoulys Chacin, signed by the Braves last week, and Josh Tomlin. At some point, the Braves could give an opportunity to a prospect from the Gwinnett satellite camp, such as Ian Anderson, Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller or Bryse Wilson.

Foltynewicz’s first start of the season went so badly in a 14-5 loss to the Rays that the Braves dropped him from the roster at the end of the game. He lasted only 3-1/3 innings, surrendering six runs, three home runs and four walks. His fastball velocity was down dramatically, from an average of almost 95 mph last season to an average of 89.3 mph.

So the Braves decided to DFA a pitcher who had been with them since 2015, made the National League All-Star team two years ago and started two playoff games last year.

“I think this is an opportunity for him to get himself right -- mentally, physically, all of the above,” Soroka said Tuesday. “To be honest with you, the velocity wasn’t there (Monday), but you look at some of the breaking balls he was throwing -- that was still there.

“Obviously, health with elbow, shoulder, whatever it might be, we know the Folty that’s healthy,” Soroka said. “We all know what that looks like. That looks like him in 2018 and even the back end of last year. It just wasn’t coming out quite the same, and he knows that. ... It could be a small fix, could be going to get something cleaned up, something checked out, could be a mechanical fix, too. We just don’t know. I think that’s something he’s going to have to address.”

Asked if he has a theory that would explain the velocity decline, Snitker said: “I don’t know because he says he feels good. I honestly don’t have (a theory) unless -- I don’t think it’s anything health. I really don’t have an answer for you.”

Snitker agreed that Foltynewicz appears noticeably thinner this year: “Yeah, he has lost weight, it looks like. Maybe that has something to do with it.”

Under MLB rules, the Braves have seven days to trade Foltynewicz or place him on irrevocable waivers. If the 29 other teams pass on him in waivers, the Braves can assign him outright to the Gwinnett satellite camp. He could reject that assignment and become a free agent.

Meanwhile, the Braves need to find some consistency in the rotation behind Soroka and Fried.

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