Braves’ Foltynewicz progressing in return from blood clots

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — There arguably weren’t 15 more important pitches in the first two days of Braves camp than the ones thrown by Mike Foltynewicz Sunday morning in a his first bullpen session of spring training.

Foltynewicz had his season ended in September when blood clots caused the hard-throwing right-hander’s pitching arm to swell grotesquely and led to surgery a few days later to remove part of the first (highest positioned) rib on his right side, which had caused blood vessels to become compressed.

After months of rest and weight loss during his inactive period while on blood thinners, Foltynewicz was given approval to increase his throwing program a few weeks ago. After not throwing at all for three months, he began light tossing on Christmas Day and was still at the 120-foot long-tossing stage in early February, unsure of how far behind other pitchers he’d be when spring training began.

After throwing once off the mound at Turner Field just over a week ago, he threw Sunday with manager Fredi Gonzalez and other team officials nearby. He was one of 10 pitchers throwing to catchers on mounds lined up side-by-side on a backfield at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.

“Folty threw the ball well,” Gonzalez said. “That’s a nice sign, to get on the mound and get going.”

Depending on his progress, Foltynewicz, 24, could join the mix of starters competing for a spot in the Braves rotation, or possibly be a bullpen option. He’s pitched in both roles – as a reliever for the Astros late in the 2014 season, and as a starter and later a reliever for the Braves during the 2015 season.

Gonzalez was asked if Foltynewicz might be less than two weeks behind other pitchers, the original estimate that some had made.

“Knock on wood,” Gonzalez said. “I haven’t been inside (the clubhouse after Sunday’s workout), I don’t know how he’s doing, but he sure looked free and easy. The ball was down in the strike zone, had some life, so I’m assuming that he’s on schedule and we’ll keep progressing in that schedule.”

“I kind of left him out of the mix yesterday when we were talking about potential starters. I did it on purpose, because I don’t want him thinking, ‘Wait a second, I’ve got to be the fifth starter or the fourth starter.’ No, just go do your stuff, get ready, and if we have to ramp you up, we’ll ramp you up.”