Aaron Nola had been the one of the few starters to contain the Braves offense on multiple occasions this season.
Yet Nola, who entered Monday with a 2.46 ERA in 16 starts against the Braves, was knocked around in the first two innings and the Braves won 7-2 at Citizens Bank Park. It was the Braves’ seventh win in their last 10 meetings with the Phillies.
Monday marked the Braves’ 90th win, matching their 2018 win total with 17 games remaining. The Braves were the fourth team to 90 wins, joining the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers.
The reason the Braves were up such a comfortable margin: Mike Foltynewicz, who glided through seven frames while allowing one run. Since returning from his minor-league demotion Aug. 6, Foltynewicz has looked much more like the pitcher who earned All-Star honors a season ago.
“He was just in one of those grooves,” manager Brian Snitker said. “The rhythm was really good. He was repeating his delivery. Confident. I looked up there at one time and he had 22 strikes and eight balls. The whole package was really good.”
Foltynewicz had a perfect game snapped in the fifth by Corey Dickerson’s one-out homer, ending his streak of retiring 13 straight. He was otherwise in control, locating his fastball while his curveball and slider were worthy complements. The former has become a pivotal pitch during his revival.
He threw his curveball 19 times, his slider 22 times and his change-up 12 times. It was perhaps the best Foltynewicz mixed his pitches this season, with the curveball an increasingly obvious difference maker.
“I think maybe the last three or four outings we’ve had success with (the curveball),” Foltynewicz said. “If we go out there throwing fastball-slider, there’s a 50-50 chance for those guys to guess. Just using the curveball and the change-up off it has been awesome. Curveball, getting first-pitch strikes with it and putting it in the dirt when I can, it’s been great. That’s been a really important pitch for me last three or four outings.”
The Braves have won all seven of Foltynewicz’s starts since he returned (and his last 10 overall). The righty owns a 2.95 ERA with 38 strikeouts against 14 walks since being recalled from Triple-A. His velocity has consistently hovered in the mid-to-high 90s and he’s exhibited command of which he was incapable earlier in the year.
A rejuvenated Foltynewicz adds another weapon to the Braves’ postseason arsenal. They won’t necessarily need a fourth starter in the first round, but Foltynewicz presents an option either as a starter or even a flamethrower out of the bullpen.
Snitker isn’t ready to say Foltynewicz is ‘back,’ citing the need to see Monday’s performance replicated multiple times in a row. But Foltynewicz’s recent body of work should add plenty of optimism. Regardless of how unideal this season has been for the 27-year-old, it won’t matter if he can produce when the Braves need it most.
And with the way he’s trending, Foltynewicz as an October asset isn’t so outrageous.
“Getting there,” Snitker said. “Hasn’t been consistent enough yet but three or four times in a row would be good. But that was really good. He didn’t have to throw 98 (mph) all the time. He was pitching, hitting his spots and changing speeds. Kept the ball down really well.”
The Braves scored four runs across the first two frames and were held scoreless until the seventh. Then came Josh Donaldson, who’s re-established his value to the point of becoming one of the best five players who’ll hit the market this winter.
Donaldson demolished a ball over the right-field wall for his 37th homer - and fifth in his last 27 at-bats. It ballooned a three-run lead into a 7-1 advantage. His was the team’s second homer of the day, with Ronald Acuna opening the game with his 38th shot.
The Braves and Phillies continue their four-game series Tuesday with lefty Max Fried, experiencing one of his career-best runs, opposing veteran southpaw Jason Vargas. The visitors are shooting for their 19th win in 22 games.
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