The Braves’ ascent to prominence is the talk of baseball. Much of the credit is deservingly bestowed upon the offense, usually with some mention of the franchise’s crop of young arms.
But the pitcher with perhaps the most upside of them all is Mike Foltynewicz, who’s been there and done that, yet has taken another step in 2018 that none of the Braves’ prized prospects are guaranteed to make.
Foltynewicz pitched his way into the All-Star game, impressing in his lone inning during the midsummer classic. He has the fourth lowest ERA in the National League (2.72) and the fifth most strikeouts (161) entering his start Friday against the Marlins.
He pitched six innings, striking out eight in a 1-0 loss. He allowed only two hits, a Brian Anderson double and Derek Dietrich single, that scraped across the only run.
Prior to his latest start, left-handers have hit only .189 against the flame-throwing righty. Right-handers’ paltry .226 mark isn’t much better. Foltynewicz is becoming the complete package the Braves hoped for when they acquired him from Houston in 2015.
“He’s staying in the moment a lot better,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s trusting his stuff. He’s believing in himself. I think he’s maturing. He’s realizing that he can do this here, that he’s not having those meltdowns. Everybody’s going to react and do that to some extent, they’re competitive guys. But he keeps a handle on things and trusts his stuff.”
Foltynewicz credited the birth of his son, Jett, for his comforting moments on the mound. His manager noticed the influence of adding someone to Foltynewicz’s family.
“It gives them great perspective,” Snitker said. “You have to grow up. It takes your focus from constantly being about you and your craft. You have somebody else who’s really important in your life. It’s the greatest thing in the world for those guys, to start their family.”
The implosions are mostly behind “Folty,” as are some of the trying moments when he has a hitter 0-2 and rushes to finish the at-bat. He’s beginning to pitch deeper in games, going eight and seven innings in his past two starts, respectively. “Slowing things down” has become more than talk; Foltynewicz is putting it to action.
“When that adrenaline kicks in, and you’re in front of 30, 40,000 people, you can get a little rushed,” Foltynewicz said. “It gets exciting. That’s when you’re rushing. Even over this last month, I’ve done a better job of just slowing down a little bit, especially when we get to two strikes.”
He didn’t have to worry about crowd size in Miami, where just over 7,700 graced Marlins Park. Foltynewicz owns a 0.95 ERA with 19 strikeouts in three starts against the Marlins this season (19 innings).
Foltynewicz had a rough July, allowing four or more runs in four of his five starts. He’s since allowed no more than three in his past five, including permitting one total across his past two starts (15 innings) before Friday.
He’s been able to bounce back from the poor outings - a microcosm of his team, which seems to immediately pick itself back up after every bump in the road.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Foltynewicz, who added he gets more butterflies before every start knowing each is more meaningful. “It’s the first year I’ve really been on a winning team. We didn’t really get that first winning season, we just kind of jumped into it, right into first place. We’ve got a lot of young guys, a lot of veterans who’ve been there, done that also. From a personally standpoint, it’s been a lot of fun from where I was last year.”