Braves designate Foltynewicz for assignment after first start of season

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Braves manager Brian Snitker announces that pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, who has experienced subpar velocity, has been designated for assignment.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Mike Foltynewicz’s first start of the season went so badly that the Braves designated him for assignment as soon as the game was over.

Foltynewicz, whose subpar velocity in an exhibition game last week sounded alarms, lasted only 3-1/3 innings at Tampa Bay on Monday night, surrendering six runs, three home runs and four walks.

One night after beating the New York Mets 14-1, the Braves lost to the Rays 14-5.

Manager Brian Snitker made the abrupt announcement about Foltynewicz at the start of his postgame Zoom news conference: “We’re going to make a pitcher move tonight after the game. Folty will be designated, and we’ll activate (reliever) Chad Sobotka tomorrow. You know, it’s tough. Folty, in the short season, it’s just not happening right now. And we kind of feel a sense of urgency to some extent.

“Hopefully he clears (waivers), they don’t make a trade, we get him in Gwinnett and try to get him back going again. That’ll be for whatever the front office does.”

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But as of late Monday night, Foltynewicz was off the Braves’ roster, and his spot in the rotation was open.

Foltynewicz’s fastball averaged 89.3 mph Monday, down from an average of almost 95 mph last year, and peaked at 92.3 mph.

The Braves had been concerned about Foltynewicz’s diminished velocity in summer camp, but had hoped it might improve with the intensity of a regular-season game.

“After the last couple outings (in summer camp), we wanted to give it a go here, and it was the same,” Snitker said. “We didn’t see enough increase in things, in the velocity. That’s who he has been – he has been a ‘stuff’ guy for the entire time we’ve had him. And the stuff hasn’t been there.”

And so the Braves decided to DFA a pitcher who made the National League All-Star team two years ago and started two playoff games last year.

“He was out there giving it his all,” Snitker said. “It’s not like he wasn’t getting after it. It’s just not happening for whatever reason. Folty has been big for us the last couple of years. He has pitched some big games in the playoffs. He has been good for us down the stretch and whatnot. But it’s just like we’re not in a position right now in this shortened season to wait for something to happen.”

Asked if he has a theory for what has caused Foltynewicz’s drop in velocity, 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 know. I really don’t have an answer for you, really.”

Foltynewicz was not made available for comment by Zoom after the game.

He was informed of the Braves’ decision to DFA him by assistant general manager Perry Minasian.

“Perry told him in there before the game was over,” Snitker said. “I think he was hurt (by the decision). It’s not an easy thing to tell a guy that, especially somebody you’ve had for a long time who’s worked hard. He’s been a big part of this organization.”

When an MLB player is designated for assignment, he is removed from the 40-man roster, and the team has seven days to trade him or place him on irrevocable waivers. If he clears waivers, he can be sent outright to the minor leagues or released. But if the player has more than three years of MLB service time, as Foltynewicz does, he can reject assignment to the minors and instead become a free agent.

The Braves acquired Foltynewicz from Houston in January 2015 in a trade that sent catcher-outfielder Evan Gattis to the Astros. Foltynewicz’s best season with the Braves was 2018, when he had a 13-10 record and 2.85 ERA.

His 2019 season started poorly, and he was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett with a 6.37 ERA after 11 starts. But he rejoined the Braves in early August and posted a 2.65 ERA over 11 starts the rest of the regular season.

In last year’s NL Division Series against St. Louis, Foltynewicz pitched superbly in Game 2, allowing no runs on three hits in seven innings of the Braves’ 3-0 win. But in Game 5, he lasted just 1/3 of an inning and was charged with seven runs (six earned) as the Braves fell behind 10-0 in the first inning of a game they would lose 13-1 to end their season.

Snitker said he doesn’t know who will start in Foltynewicz’s place in five days, saying it could be “one of two or three guys” or even “an opener,” a reliever who works maybe two or three innings as a starter before turning the game over to the rest of the bullpen.

Tampa Bay's Hunter Renfroe connects for a three-run home run off Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz during the fourth inning Monday, July 27, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Folytnewicz was designated for assignment after the game.
Tampa Bay's Hunter Renfroe connects for a three-run home run off Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz during the fourth inning Monday, July 27, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Folytnewicz was designated for assignment after the game.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Monday’s score was tied 1-1 after three innings, a Dansby Swanson home run for Atlanta matched by a Mike Zunino homer for the Rays. Double plays got Foltynewicz out of the first and second innings, and he allowed Zunino’s homer in the third. But the game completely unraveled for him and the Braves in the bottom of the fourth.

Back-to-back walks were followed by a 420-foot three-run homer by Hunter Renfroe and a solo homer by Joey Wendle. The Rays scored eight runs in the inning, five of them charged to Foltynewicz and three to reliever Touki Toussaint.

Toussaint allowed six runs in 2-2/3 innings, and A.J. Minter and Grant Dayton allowed a run apiece. The Rays hit five home runs on the night.

Lowlights for the Braves, other than their pitching, were a whopping 19 strikeouts against four Tampa Bay pitchers, including nine in four innings against starter Tyler Glasnow. The 19 strikeouts were the most in a nine-inning game in Braves history.

All in all, it was a long day for the Braves, starting with a 4 a.m. arrival at their hotel after a flight from New York.