Braves prospect ‘Folty’ roughed up by Phillies

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Mike Foltynewicz gave up back-to-back homers to Philly's Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf and lasted 2 2/3 innings Tuesday (Video by David O'Brien)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Being a power-armed prospect with a great pitcher's physique and a high-90s fastball doesn't make one immune to the pressures of job competition, as Mike Foltynewicz reminded us Tuesday.

The Braves rookie gave up three runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings, including back-to-back homers by Ryan Howard and Darin Ruff in the third inning of a 5-3 Grapefruit League loss to the Phillies that further diminished his chances of winning the fifth-starter job.

“I felt good, just a couple of bad pitches and everything kind of started getting fast there in the last inning,” Foltynewicz said, “and things went downhill from there. But other than that, I went out there and battled the best I can. Unfortunately things didn’t go the way I wanted.”

The rangy right-hander, the highest-rated of three prospects the Braves got from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade, has compiled a 7.04 ERA in four spring-training starts, only one of which could be considered good. He’s allowed 15 hits, 10 runs (six earned) and seven walks with 10 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.

After manager Fredi Gonzalez said last weekend that Wandy Rodriguez secured one of the two available spots in the starting rotation, it left Foltynewicz competing for the fifth spot along with veteran left-hander Eric Stults, prospect Manny Banuelos, rookie Cody Martin and former 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang.

Stults, Martin and Wang all have clearly outpitched Foltynewicz, who gave up four hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings in his first start, didn’t make it out of the first inning in his second start, and pitched well against the Yankees in his third start last week (2 2/3 innings, three hits, one run, one walk, four strikeouts).

“The only difference I saw between this start and the last one was he wasn’t getting ahead with his fastball,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He was missing over the plate, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1 — fastball counts and fastball hitters. He didn’t mix in his other secondary pitchers. As we know, these (hitters) can time a bullet when they see it.”

A reporter asked Gonzalez if Foltnewicz is a kid with a great arm and work to do.

“Exactly right,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a guy that’s got a nice arm, great body, and he’s still got to figure out that he’s got to pitch. It’s not throwing. It’s not to see how fast you can throw, it’s getting people out. The time before, he changed speeds. It’s a learning process. But you can’t learn if you don’t run them back out there every single time you get an opportunity to.”

With less than two weeks left before opening day, Foltnewicz knows time is running out in the race for the fifth spot.

“When you’ve got that added pressure of just trying to make the team, you go out there and you get hit around like that and you think in the back of your head, is that going to hurt my chances of making the team?” he said. “Giving up two-out walks and getting the bases loaded, and giving up two home runs back-to-back. When you’re out there you’re thinking of, oh God, this ain’t looking too good for me and my chances of making the team. And I really need to be relaxed out there.

“I’m trying my best, but those things go through your head and it’s really hard to relax.”

After striking out Cord Phelps and Howard consecutively to end the first inning with a runner on, Foltynewicz’s troubles began in the second after a one-out double by Chris Nelson. Brian Bogusevic followed with an RBI single, and one out later Foltnewicz walked No. 9 hitter Severino Gonzalez and Jordan Danks consecutively to load the bases.

He struck out Andres Blanco to get out of that jam, but gave up two runs in the third inning on consecutive one-out pitches to Howard and Ruf.