WASHINGTON – After Mike Foltynewicz left Thursday’s game with a cut on the tip of his right middle finger, the Braves at least had plenty of rested relievers available to get through the last five innings of their series finale against the Nationals.
And when Ozzie Albies hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to get the Braves within a run at 3-2, it looked like they were in position to stage another of the late-innings rallies they’ve been known for and perhaps complete a series sweep of the National League East champions at Nationals Park.
Then manager Brian Snitker decided to use struggling reliever Matt Wisler, a move that once again produced unwanted results.
Wisler gave up two runs and three hits in the sixth inning and the Nationals cruised from there to a 5-2 win against the Braves, which evened the season series between the teams at 8-8 and extended Foltynewicz’s losing streak to seven consecutive starts.
Snitker was asked why he decided to use Wisler, who has an 8.60 ERA in 18 games this season including an 18.56 ERA and .516 opponents’ average and in his past five appearances (16 hits, 11 runs in 5 1/3 innings).
“Didn’t have anybody else, really,” Snitker said. “I wanted to get through the sixth to get it to Sammy (Freeman) and (Jose) Ramirez, is what that was.”
Snitker used Rex Brothers in a scoreless fifth inning and said he didn’t want to use several relievers including rookies A.J. Minter, Dan Winkler or Lucas Sims because they pitched Wednesday and haven’t made back-to-back appearances.
(Minter pitched consecutive games once at Triple-A in July; Winkler, since coming back from his second elbow surgery, has not pitched back-to-back games. Sims was moved from the rotation the bullpen this month.)
“You’ve just got to be careful with them guys, it’s like you’re asking them to go in uncharted territory,” Snitker said. “And we’re behind in the game, we need him to get three outs there and try to bridge the gap because we’d used all the other guys the day before and Luke Jackson had pitched two innings and 40 pitches (Tuesday) and it was kind of…that (Wisler) is who we had.
“That sixth is a big inning, when you lose your starter. That was the big thing was we lost Folty. He was throwing the ball good and it’s just unfortunate that happened because we needed him to get through that inning right there, if we’d done that then things were lined up pretty good.”
Foltynewicz (10-13) was charged with four hits, three runs and one walk with three strikeouts in four innings, and said a cut opened on the tip of his finger from being overzealous in rubbing the baseball between pitches on a warm night. He said it happened before the last batter he faced, Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark, in the fourth inning.
“It happened years in the past, when I’m just rubbing up a ball and it’s humid out,” Foltynewicz said. “I’m upset with myself today as it was, and the hand just slipped out and cut my finger. That was before the Roark at-bat. I kind of felt it a little bit, didn’t think anything of it, and then when I continued to throw, once I got in the dugout I was just bleeding, so…. There was nothing I could really do about it. Just upset with myself, got a little crazy with the ball in my hands.
“Once I got to the last couple of pitches to Roark my middle finger was numb so I knew something was up. When I got in (the dugout) it wouldn’t stop bleeding. There was a little chunk (skin) coming up and (head trainer Jeff Porter) said we can’t do anything and you can’t pitch with that because it’ll make it way worse the way the skin is, it’ll just tear it up more.”
Foltynewicz said he won’t know until they see how his finger heals over the next couple of days whether he’ll be able to make his next scheduled turn in the rotation.
He has lost seven consecutive starts and has a 1-7 record and 7.27 ERA in his past nine starts, including four outings in which he lasted four or fewer innings. Before that slide, Foltynewicz was 9-1 with a 3.56 ERA in 14 starts from May 12 through July 25 and the Braves were 12-2 in those games.
He gave up a leadoff double to Trea Turner in the first inning and a Jayson Werth RBI single before recording his first out.
Foltynewicz retired nine of the next 10 batters before Adam Lind led off the fourth inning with a single and scored on Victor Robles’ one-out triple. A walk and an RBI ground-out late the lead was 3-0.
Roark (13-9) didn’t give up a hit until Johan Camargo’s two-out single in the fifth inning. He pitched six innings and gave up four hits, two runs and one walk with seven strikeouts.
Roark was tossing a two-hit shutout until Albies hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning, extending his hitting streak to 12 games and giving the 20-year-old second baseman two homers in the series and four homers and 21 RBIs in 41 major league games including eight RBIs in his past seven.
“He threw some good pitches at me, I just was ready for that one, I guess,” Albies said. “First time I faced him. I was just looking for the fastball, tried to hammer it.”
After hitting .170 with a .550 OPS in his first 14 games, the rookie has hit .346 (37-for-107) with 13 extra-base hits (five triples, two homers) and a .965 OPS in his past 27 games.
“I just try to focus on day by day, do my job,” Albies said.