Foltynewicz’s turnaround bolsters Braves’ rotation

For a guy who was the Braves’ best pitcher and a National League All-Star last year, Mike Foltynewicz seemed pretty deficient 10 days ago.

As the Braves’ younger starting pitchers thrived, he had an 8.02 ERA and a tenuous hold on his spot in the rotation, amplifying questions about the health of his elbow.

Since then, Foltynewicz appears to have righted himself, at least in part because of mechanical adjustments. In his past two starts, his fastball velocity has returned to last year’s level, his slider has become effective again and his confidence has soared. He has begun doing his part in a five-man rotation that, entering Saturday night, had a collective 1.61 ERA over the past 10 games.

“I’m trying to catch up with them guys,” said Foltynewicz, referring to fellow starters Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Julio Teheran and Kevin Gausman. “It’s really fun to have a friendly competition like this.

“I don’t want to be the guy that messes that up. ... I just want to get on the same track with them, which I think I am.”

Foltynewicz missed almost all of spring training because of elbow soreness caused by a bone spur, opened the season on the injured list and didn’t make his first big-league start of the season until April 27. His first four starts were substandard, bottoming out May 14 when he allowed eight earned runs in 4-2/3 innings against the Cardinals at SunTrust Park.

Tellingly, he faced the same St. Louis team on the road Friday night. This time, he allowed no earned runs (one unearned) in six-plus innings, struck out a season-high seven and walked none in recording his first win of the season. His fastball was clocked at 96-97 mph.

That performance built on an encouraging start last Sunday in which Foltynewicz held the Brewers to two runs (earned) in six innings at SunTrust Park. If that start gave the Braves hope Foltynewicz was on his way back to 2018 form, Friday’s confirmed it in their minds.

“He looked like the old Folty,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I told him, ‘We’re getting back to where you were. And that’s good to see.’ It can be a huge, huge element in our team to get him back like that.”

“I think his confidence and rhythm really are getting back to where it was before,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said.

Foltynewicz concurred with those assessments.

“It really did (feel like 2018),” Foltynewicz said. “Your confidence can go down in the hole pretty quick, especially when you’ve got to face the Cardinals again and what happened last time (against them), but the confidence was there. I think that’s the biggest thing right now, the confidence and throwing with conviction.”

First baseman Freddie Freeman figures the earlier problems stemmed from Foltynewicz missing spring training.

“He just needed a few starts (to get going), obviously,” Freeman said.

The turnaround, if that is what his past two starts ultimately prove to be, didn’t come without adjustments, including holding his hands higher before delivering pitches.

“The last (two) starts have kind of taken the pressure off me a little bit, so I can just throw all that (negative) stuff in the garbage and focus on who I’ve got next,” Foltynewicz said. “The team is playing excellent right now, and I’m glad I can be a part of it.”