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Foltynewicz becomes most interesting subplot of Braves’ stretch run

Gwinnett Stripers pitcher Mike Foltynewicz delivers a pitch in the second inning against the Indianapolis Indians at CoolRay Field on Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Gwinnett Stripers pitcher Mike Foltynewicz delivers a pitch in the second inning against the Indianapolis Indians at CoolRay Field on Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

This time, the Braves need Mike Foltynewicz. They won’t say it – instead categorizing his return as a beacon of hope rather than any expectation – but Foltynewicz will be counted on.

The Braves made a bold move that didn’t seem that bold on the surface: They discarded Kevin Gausman, putting him on waivers and seeing him depart for Cincinnati on Monday. It cleared a struggling pitcher’s salary and ended the headache of trying to sort him out.

Simultaneously, they again took on the challenge of Foltynewicz, recalling him from Triple-A. The Braves aren’t at a point of taking fliers. They’re trying to lock down the National League East and enter the postseason playing their best.

That means they need Foltynewicz to look much closer to 2018 than 2019, when little went well for the hard-throwing righty. His first chance comes Tuesday, when he’ll start in Minnesota.

“This was performance based,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “Gausman got claimed and moved on to another club. From our standpoint, this allows Folty to come back and start for us. Hopefully, he comes up and solidifies things.”

Foltynewicz was the team’s unquestioned ace last season, earning an All-Star appearance and starting a pair of postseason games. Yet this season, he regressed back to his pre-2018 self.

Before his demotion to Triple-A, Foltynewicz posted an ERA over 6.00 in 11 starts after returning from a bone spur that ruined his spring training. His piitches weren’t nearly as crisp as a season ago and his visible mental breakdowns provided little reason to trust he’d figure it out in the majors.

After allowing eight runs in four innings against the Nationals, the Braves sent Foltynewicz to the minors to rediscover himself on June 23. The 27-year-old made six starts in Triple-A, earning a 2.67 ERA. His slider, in particular, proved much more effective.

“With the way Folty was throwing the ball, talking to the Gwinnett staff, they felt he was ready to come back,” Anthopoulos said. “At the end of the day, we were going to give Folty an opportunity.”

Foltynewicz now returns with a chance to solidify the team’s rotation. Any semblance of last year’s production would ease concerns about the group through this final stretch – and perhaps even the postseason. Him fortifying the fifth spot in the rotation would be a welcomed development for the club as it works its way to September callups.

And Foltynewicz, who had a 2.85 ERA in in 31 starts last year, is the type of talent who, if right, could potentially swing a postseason series.

That’s a long way away, and there’s far from a guarantee Foltynewicz emerges into that type of player. But the Braves will cling to hope old ‘Folty’ materializes. For now, it’s all they have.

“Hopefully he comes and provides a spark here,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’d be awesome for us. It’d just be a huge addition. I think we’ve solidified our bullpen, but the starting pitching is going to have to, again, they’re going to need to be the ones who carry the load and make that bullpen effective.”