Braves send former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz to minors

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 22: Mike Foltynewicz #26 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Washington Nationals during the second inning at Nationals Park on June 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Credit: Scott Taetsch

Credit: Scott Taetsch

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 22: Mike Foltynewicz #26 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Washington Nationals during the second inning at Nationals Park on June 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Mike Foltynewicz’s latest dud left the Braves with no choice. They optioned the All-Star righty Sunday to Triple-A Gwinnett, ending a string of 11 frustrating starts in which the 27-year-old couldn’t rediscover last year’s success.

Foltynewicz was hit for eight earned runs on eight hits Saturday against the Nationals, equaling the most he's allowed in his career. His ERA leaped to 6.37 — a drastic difference from his 2.55 mark through the same amount of starts last year.

“It’s time to push the reset button,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It wasn’t working here. It’s been a struggle all year. Nothing got going for him. He didn’t get in a flow, rhythm, anything like that. Sometimes you have to take a step back.

“I felt like after the game transpired, the time is now. Hopefully we’ll get him down there, he can get on a roll, get his confidence back, get guys out and get back to his old self.”

Even more concerning, he was unable to contain his own frustrations, visibly expressing his displeasure in manners that didn’t help his attempts to block the Nationals’ run barrage.

Saturday was the final straw. The swings and misses were never as prevalent as last season. His mental approach was reason for concern. Foltynewicz, who was waiting at his locker after the game and delivered an emotional interview, didn’t deflect blame.

“I’ve got a 7.00 ERA on a first-place team,” he said. “I’m battling every single night. It’s just tough. It’s just the person I am — I’m going to wear that stuff on my sleeve, especially when things aren’t going my way. It’s all my fault, too.

“I’m just missing my spots, walking people. So I’m going to get mad at myself when I know I can get people out easier than I have been. It just sucks. End of story.”

Braves recalled right-hander Chad Sobotka from Gwinnett.

Foltynewicz matured a season ago, learning how to control his emotions and pound the strike zone; a combination that put him in the All-Star game. In 2019, his regression has become the black mark on an otherwise successful season for the Braves.

Pitching coach Rick Kranitz felt Foltynewicz’s on-mound outbursts did affect him mechanically. He did express optimism, however, in Foltynewicz’s increased velocity. It’s an additional plus that he’s healthy after missing spring training with a bone spur in his throwing elbow.

Foltynewicz’s slider was the best it’s been Saturday, Kranitz opined, but he left his fastball up. The bottom-line was the best place for Foltynewicz to find balance in his attitude and performance wasn’t the majors.

“It affects anybody when you start to get overly emotional and start to overthrow,” Kranitz said. “You do get out of your mechanics. Every pitcher in the game needs to be able to keep his emotions in check.”

Snitker said similar following the game, putting the onus on Foltynewicz to turn himself around.

"I thought he had turned the corner, but I'm seeing signs this year of going right back where he was two, three years ago,” Snitker said. “Nobody can take care of that other than him. He has to be the one to control that."

Since the Braves acquired a young Foltynewicz from Houston in 2015, the story has been the same: Spectacular stuff if he can hone it in. Unfortunately for all parties involved, the steps made a season ago are in the distant past.

This is the latest in a series of demotions the Braves have made due to regulars underperforming. They sent Sean Newcomb down, only for him to come back revived in a relief role. They yanked Kevin Gausman from the rotation. A.J. Minter, the expected closer, was also sent down.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward,” Snitker said.

The Braves haven't decided who will fill Foltynewicz's next turn in the rotation (Thursday in Chicago), but Snitker stated he prefers Newcomb — who's set to return from the injured list Tuesday — in the bullpen.

Despite the constant change, the Braves own a 45-32 record and lead the National League East by 5-1/2 games entering Sunday. They aren’t banking on hopes a pitcher turns it around, a luxury afforded by their rich depth.

So the Braves will move forward without their starter who struck out over 200 hitters last year. Just 13 months ago, Foltynewicz was readying for his first midsummer classic.

Now, he’s vying to overcome mental and physical inconsistencies to work his way back into the rotation he was once pegged to lead.

“He needs to be more consistent mechanically,” Kranitz said. “To be able to repeat his delivery and have a consistent release point. The stuff is there. There’s no doubt about it. He’s going to be back to form, there’s no question in my mind.”