At some point, the concerns about Mike Foltynewicz extend beyond rust. The Braves’ righty, since returning from the injured list, hasn’t been close to replicating his All-Star form of 2018.
Just four batters in, the Braves were in a three-run hole Tuesday. It only got worse from there, leading to a 14-3 loss to the Cardinals at SunTrust Park. The Braves have lost each of Foltynewicz’s four starts.
“I was just leaving a lot of pitches up,” Foltynewicz said. “Getting in early trouble with base hits and walks. Those three-run home runs, we didn’t have a shut-down inning. I wasn’t out there long. Everything was feeling fine, it’s just a lot of pitches were up in the zone. They did their damage when they had runners on the bases.”
Foltynewicz walked leadoff man Matt Carpenter, struck out Paul Goldschmidt and allowed a single to Paul DeJong to open the game. He grooved the fourth pitch - a slider - to Marcell Ozuna, putting the Braves behind 3-0.
After Foltynewicz’s perfect second inning, St. Louis tacked on another run in the third and fourth. The fifth inning was a complete disaster, with the Cardinals scoring six runs and building an 11-0 advantage.
“Everything was flat, nothing was coming out real good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Foltynewicz. “And he paid for it. I was really encouraged coming into the night from what I saw in L.A. (his last start). Tonight was just not coming out good.”
DeJong and Ozuna drew one-out walks, and after striking out Jose Martinez, Foltynewicz seemed to have a chance at escaping the inning. But Yadier Molina put his slider into the stands, ending his night.
“I’m not giving my team a chance to win right now,” Foltynewicz said. “It sucks.”
Reliever Jesse Biddle’s return wasn’t one of glory. He allowed three consecutive singles upon following Foltynewicz. Carpenter doubled in the sixth run of the inning and Goldschmidt walked before Biddle registered the third out.
It was a discouraging day for Braves pitching, and especially towards their hopes Foltynewicz will soon stabilize. It came on the heels of a winning 10-game road trip that already feels distant in the rear-view mirror.
“Tonight we just weren’t able to get into a groove,” catcher Brian McCann said. “They just didn’t miss their pitch. It’s just about executing. There are some pitches I wish I hadn’t called tonight. That’ll probably keep me up a little bit. One of those things where we need to get back to attacking the zone, staying ahead.”
Foltynewicz’s velocity is slightly down and his location is a recurring concern. The slider has been the bane of his inconsistencies, and it was again his Achilles heel versus the Cardinals. He isn’t inducing swings and misses with the fastball - just two in 46 throws - a strength that helped him strike out over 200 hitters last season.
He maintains he’s healthy, citing more command issues than any physical detriments. Foltynewicz said he’s “past” the bone spurs in his elbow that ruined his spring training. His sliders and change-ups were living too high in the zone.
“It’s not the elbow,” Foltynewicz said. “I don’t know if it’s mechanical or mental. I get to 1-2, 0-2 easily. You’ve seen it in the past. I get there and … I don’t know if it’s that I’m trying to over-throw my slider, make it better than it is, trying to throw it harder. All this stuff comes into play. I get to two strikes easily and then … we’re getting away from last year when everything was smooth flowing.”
Through four starts, he’s allowed 23 runs (19 earned) across 21-1/3 innings. He owns a 14 to 8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has given up eight homers.
Foltynewicz’s next start would be Sunday against the Brewers. When asked if the pitcher will continue starting or could benefit from a break, Snitker didn’t have a definitive answer.
“I don’t know,” Snitker said. “We’ll see where he’s at tomorrow and the side (session) day, then go from there. He said he feels fine.”
The Braves start Mike Soroka on Wednesday, hoping to again surpass the .500 mark. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have won nine of their last 10 games in Atlanta.