Albies homers, but Foltynewicz struggles mightily in loss to Cardinals

Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, left, wipes his face as pitching coach Chuck Hernandez walks out to the mound during the second inning. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, left, wipes his face as pitching coach Chuck Hernandez walks out to the mound during the second inning. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS – Ozzie Albies demonstrated his Pocket Hercules-type power with the second three-run homer of his fledgling major league career, but the hole that Mike Foltynewicz put the Braves in early proved too much to overcome against the surging Cardinals.

Foltynewicz gave up seven hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings, the briefest start of his major league career, and the Cardinals extended their winning streak to seven games with a 8-5 victory Friday night in a series opener before a big crowd at Busch Stadium.

The Braves have lost 17 of 23 games since getting their season to a high-water mark of 45-45.

Albies’ homer capped a four-run sixth inning and got the Braves to within a run at 6-5 and stunned a red-clad crowd of 41,928, but the Cardinals added two runs in the eighth inning against Rex Brothers after three other relievers combined for 4 1/3 hitless innings.

Luke Jackson, who replaced Foltynewicz in the third inning, struck out six of the seven batters he faced in 2 1/3 innings.

“Just an embarrassing outing,” said Foltynewicz (10-7) of his performance, which included four walks, one strikeout and a hit batter. “To go out there and not even get through three innings, it’s tough. Tough on the team, tough on the bullpen. I’ve got to give the team all the credit in the world for coming back like that, the bullpen holding strong. It was awesome to see that.

“But if I wasn’t walking someone I was over the middle of the plate or a little up in the zone where they could do damage and get the hits like they did. It was just a weird day. I got myself in trouble with all the walks and I couldn’t stop the bleeding.

Foltynewicz has been at his worst in both starts against the Cardinals this season, working a total of just 6 2/3 innings and allowing 16 hits, 13 runs and six walks.

He gave up nine hits and seven runs in four innings of a 10-0 loss against them May 5 at SunTrust Park, and since that game Foltynewicz had turned his season around and been the Braves’ best and most consistent starter.

In 16 starts during the period between losses against the Cardinals, he went 10-2 with a 3.74 ERA and the Braves won 13 times. Foltynewicz gave up five or more runs three times in that 16-game stretch, but now he’s done it twice in his past three starts including seven hits and five runs allowed July 31 in a loss at Philadelphia.

“Hot lineup like that, I wanted to go out there and put the Braves back on the map, start a series off strong and maybe get something going again,” Foltynewicz said. “It wasn’t the way to start things off. I just feel horrible about it.”

And while Foltynewicz found himself rushing and trying unsuccessfully to overpower hitters on a frustrating night, his counterpart, Cardinals veteran and long-ago Braves prospect Adam Wainwright (12-5), featured a diminished fastball and a slow, loopy curve but managed to pitch five effective innings, limiting the Braves to four hits, one run and three walks.

“With what he had he was just maneuvering and adding and subtracting (from his fastball),” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who was Wainwright’s Double-A manager in 2003 before they traded him to St. Louis that December. “I’ve never seen him like (he was Friday) before. Even without his good stuff, there’s a reason he’s been so successful for so long. He can maneuver around a lineup like he did tonight.”

Foltynewicz said, “Just take that into consideration, that you don’t need to be throwing 96-98 (mph) every time. Just spotting (pitching with good location) does the trick. That was something to learn off of tonight.”

Not only have the Cardinals won seven straight including a four-game sweep of the Royals that ended Thursday, but they also extended their streak of scoring at least eight runs in wins to six games. The last team with a streak of eight or more runs in six consecutive wins was the 2006 Braves, who had six straight against the Reds, Padres and Cardinals in July.

St. Louis is 27-16 since June 25, second-most wins in majors during that stretch behind the Dodgers (31 before Friday).

Albies has six hits and six RBIs in his first nine games, all the RBIs on a pair of three-run homers. The 5-foot-7 second baseman’s first major league hit was a three-run shot in the ninth inning of a 7-4 loss to the Dodgers in his third game.

He also had a single in his first at-bat Friday to give him his first multi-hit game in the first road game of his career. His three-run homer in the sixth off Brett Cecil was a no-doubt-about it pulled shot to the left-field seats.

“He’s held his own, and we’re just going to keep running him out there,” Snitker said. “He’s had a little impact here in a short period of time. We see what he’s capable of.”

Foltynewicz bounced back from his recent rough start against the Phillies with an overpowering performance Saturday to beat Miami, allowing just four hits and one run with no walks and career-high 11 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

But he looked out of sorts from the first batter Friday, when he issued two walks in the first inning and then gave up so many line-drive hits in second and third innings that it looked like the Cardinals knew what pitches he was throwing before he threw them. He finished with 48 strikes in 83 pitches.

Besides Albies, the highlight for the Braves was their bullpen for 4 1/3 innings until Brothers came in for the eighth inning and gave up two runs on one hit and three walks.

When Jackson struck out six of the seven batters he faced, he joined Mike Bielecki (Aug. 3, 1996) as the only Braves relievers to strike out six in 2 1/3 innings or fewer. He was the first major league reliever to strike out six in 2 1/3 innings and face the minimum seven batters since the Yankees’ Dellin Betances did it in a 2014 game against the Mets.