LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When the Braves optioned Mike Foltynewicz to Triple-A Gwinnett Wednesday, it left three pitchers competing for the last two spots in the starting rotation: Jhoulys Chacin, Williams Perez and prospect John Gant, one of the pleasant surprises of spring training.
The Braves could go with an extra reliever in the first week or so of the season, and Gant still seems more likely to fill a long-relief role rather than starter, though that hasn’t been determined.
They won’t need a fifth starter the first time until April 12 in the seventh game of the season, because of off days in the early schedule. But even with that extra time, the Braves didn’t think Foltynewicz likely would be ready to fill the spot the first time it was up, given his late start this spring. And he agreed.
“I’m not really close to being ready, or even at 100 pitches yet,” said Foltynewicz, who has an 8.31 ERA in three Grapefruit League starts, the longest of which was 3 2/3 innings. “So we’re just going to go and get my work in and try to build me back up and still take it day-by-day, how my arm feels and all that.
“We’ll just go out to Gwinnett and pitch and get ready for the season.”
The Braves also reassigned catchers Ryan Lavarnway and Blake Lalli to minor league camp Wednesday, leaving them 29 active players on the camp roster.
There was hope that Foltynewicz might be ready after he struck out five Astros in 3 2/3 innings in a March 23 start in which he consistently threw 97 mph fastballs. But he faced Houston again Monday and gave up six runs on six hits, including four home runs in three innings.
“He’s not ready, and it would be a disservice to try to push him and get him on the club,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He needs to go stretch out. We think the world of him, we think he could be a starter for us, and whenever he’s ready, whether it’s the 12th when we need a fifth, or a week after that. Whenever that is that he’s ready, he’ll join us.”
Gonzalez said everything would have to go perfectly for Foltynewicz to be ready April 12, and said it was “probably more realistic” that Foltynewicz would be ready two rotation turns later, around April 22.
Foltynewicz has eight strikeouts and two walks in 8 2/3 innings this spring, but he’s allowed nine hits including five homers.
“I’ve got a little time left to get back,” he said. “You can clearly tell I’m not there yet with the pitching. Throwing is good, arm feels good and all that, but we’ve got to get back to pitching, hitting locations, and not letting the four home runs (in a game) happen during the season. So, get all that out of the way now and focus on pitching and hitting my spots, and we’ll be OK.”
The hard-throwing right-hander came to camp two or three weeks behind other pitchers because of a September blood-clot scare in his pitching arm that necessitated season-ending surgery to remove part of a rib, and prevented him from doing any throwing until Christmas and kept him off a mound until February.
“Yeah, I kind of knew coming into spring training” that it would be difficult to make the opening-day roster, he said. “They took an extra month precautionary with me, they kind of took it a little slower with me. You could kind of tell, the last time I only went three innings. That was the plan, and I think I’m going three innings again Saturday. So we’re just slowly building up to 100 percent.”