Foltynewicz: In his 17th start, just his second awful inning

Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz gave up five runs on two homers in the third inning of a 5-4 loss Friday at Milwaukee. (Video by David O’Brien)

Mike Foltynewicz had one bad start before Friday. Or to be more accurate, the Braves pitcher had one rotten inning inning before Friday. It was a six-run second inning against the Giants on May 5, all the runs he gave up that day in his five innings of work during a 9-4 loss.

And then came Friday at Milwaukee. Foltynewicz had his second bad start of the season. Or to be more accurate, he had his second rotten inning.

The box score says he allowed six hits and five runs in six innings, with no walks and seven strikeouts. But all the runs came in the third inning, when the Brewers used two multi-run homers by Tyler Saladino and Jesus Aguilar to erase a 1-0 deficit and score all they needed for a 5-4 win.

“Usually in every game I get in that little mess and I get out of it, but not this time around,” Foltynewicz said.

Think about this: He has allowed 11 runs in two innings this season, the one against the Giants at SunTrust Park and the third inning Friday at Miller Park. He has pitched to a 1.35 ERA in the other 93 innings he’s worked in his 17 starts, allowing 14 earned runs in those innings.

His seasonal ERA is a still-outstanding 2.37, but two innings from hell are responsible for a full run of his overall ERA.

“Yeah, just one inning,” Foltynewicz said.

The positive that the pitcher, his manager and pitching coach took from it: Each time, Foltynewicz regrouped and worked three scoreless innings after the ugly inning. That was particularly important Friday, given the burden placed on the Braves bullpen recently by starters working five or fewer innings in 10 of 15 starts including three innings or less in two of the past three before Friday.

If Foltynewicz experienced an inning in past seasons like the one he endured May 4 or the one that transpired Friday, chances are he would’ve come unglued, lost his composure and not been able to regain it.

“Chuck (Hernandez) came up to me and said, ‘In the past you might not have gotten past the third or the fourth in these situations, and that’s something to take out of this game -- you got to the sixth and kept the team in it.’ You know how this team comes back. But like you said, just the one inning,” Foltynewicz said.

It was just the second time he yielded more than two earned runs this season and the first time he gave up multiple homers since the Phillies hit two against him in his March 30 season debut. Foltynewicz had served up just four homers in 15 starts since then, until the third inning Friday.

Since the May 4 loss to the Giants, he had strengthened his All-Star resume by compiling a 0.87 ERA and .146 opponents’ average in his past nine starts, the best marks among major league qualifiers in both categories during that period. And for a while Friday it looked like his surge might reach 10 games as he retired the first six batters.

Center fielder Ender Inciarte covered a lot of ground to make catches just in front of the wall for the second and third outs of the second inning, at which point Foltynewicz had his overall ERA whittled to 1.98. But those loud and long outs were a harbinger for the next inning, as the surging NL Central leaders were about to tee off.

Saladino and Aguilar each homered in the third before Foltynewicz had even recorded a second out in the inning. After Manny Pina’s soft leadoff single to left just beyond the outstretched glove of shortstop Dansby Swanson, Saladino homered on an 0-2 slider after looking at two fastballs for strikes. Before Friday, opponents were 4-for-30 against Foltynewicz on two-strike counts.

He struck out pitcher Freddy Peralta for the first out of the inning before the Brewers resumed damage. Eric Thames singled through the right side and Foltynewicz hit Christian Yelich in the knee with an 0-2 pitch. Aguilar followed with the crushing blow, squaring up a 98-mph fastball for his 20th home run, a three-run, no-doubt-about-it drive that stretched the Brewers’ lead to 5-1.

“On the first home run I just left a slider right over the middle,” Foltynewicz said. “I’ve been a lot better with that this year than I have been in the past, I just let one slip away from me. Then I just kind of got into trouble on the second home run, the second time through (the lineup), and just left that pitch over the middle to Aguilar. His bat path just ran right into it. ...

“I wish I could have got the one home run and then got out of it with two runs. But I think I got a little upset with myself and left that ball over to Thames and hit Yelich and left a ball over to Aguilar. And that was just a big inning we couldn’t come back from.”

Manager Brian Snitker said, “One inning. Then he settled down and he was fine. Threw the ball really well. He threw the ball well enough that it we were ahead in that game he probably keeps pitching. But just that one inning. ... You make mistakes here and they hurt you. It’s not necessarily a mistake – the idea’s right or the thought’s right, he just didn’t execute. You’ve got to execute pitches, every pitch. It’s a big thing and if you don’t execute every pitch, sometimes you get hurt.”