Mike Foltynewicz was his old self on the mound and Dansby Swanson his new self at the plate Friday night.
The combination was the key to the Braves’ 5-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the opening game of a weekend series.
Foltynewicz pitched six strong innings, allowing just one run (unearned) on five hits and again providing encouragement that his early-season struggles are behind him.
“That was Folty from last year, all year – 96-97 (mph on fastballs), slider tight, pounding the zone,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “That is going to be huge for us going forward.”
Swanson, meanwhile, hit two home runs, the first giving the Braves the lead in the sixth inning and the second providing a cushion in the eighth. The long balls gave Swanson 10 homers for the season, just four fewer than all of last year.
“He looks completely different than last year,” Freeman said of Swanson. “He hit a slider out to dead center today, hit a slider out to left field today. I don’t know if he would have done that last year.”
Swanson’s first home run of the night put the Braves ahead 2-1, which became 3-1 when Freeman immediately followed with a homer of his own, his sixth in the past nine games. It was the second time in three days that Swanson and Freeman, the Nos. 2 and 3 hitters, belted back-to-back homers.
On his final at-bat of the night, Swanson’s two-run homer stretched the lead to 5-1 and gave him the second multi-homer game of his career. The power surge came after he struck out in his first two at-bats of the night.
“Just being able to put the barrel on the ball consistently is such a big deal in this game, and swinging at good pitches is a big deal,” Swanson said. “But I think the response from the first two at-bats would be the thing I would be most proud of, regardless of the end results and everything. So, yeah, a good day for sure.”
It was a good day, too, for the Braves starting pitcher. In his sixth start of the season, Foltynewicz struck out a season-high seven batters and walked none. He recorded his first win of the season and trimmed his ERA, which was 8.02 two starts ago, to 5.67.
“The confidence was there. I think that’s the biggest thing right now, the confidence and throwing the ball with conviction,” Foltynewicz said. “We kept them off balance just enough the whole night. … The mechanics and everything felt great.”
Foltynewicz retired the first six batters of the game and limited damage to one run in the third inning when an error by left fielder Austin Riley (his second since joining the team) and a misplayed ball by center fielder Ronald Acuna complicated matters.
“I think the third inning speaks volumes (about Foltynewicz),” manager Brian Snitker said. “The two fly balls got away from us, and that inning could have gotten ugly.”
Foltynewicz pitched into the seventh inning, yielding to the bullpen after back-to-back singles at the start of that frame. Relievers Jerry Blevins, Dan Winkler, Anthony Swarzak and Sean Newcomb kept the Cardinals off the board over the final three innings except for a long home run by Matt Carpenter off Newcomb to lead off the bottom of the ninth.
The win was the Braves’ third in a row, a stretch in which they have hit eight home runs. They have gone 11-4 since losing three in a row to the Dodgers in Los Angeles on May 6-8 and are now six games above .500 at 29-23.
“I think you’re kind of starting to see the makeup of our team and what we believed we would be,” Swanson said. “Right now, home and road, it doesn’t matter, we try to play our brand of baseball everywhere we go. Good pitching, good defense, timely hitting – it has been fun for the last couple of weeks for sure.”
Braves rookie Mike Soroka will take his 5-1 record and 1.01 ERA to the mound for Game 2 of the series Saturday night.
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