Mike Foltynewicz Q&A: On his first half, All-Star talk and an improving slider

Mike Foltynewicz has been a key to the Braves’ sudden leap to contention.

The righty owns a 2.14 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 84 innings (15 starts). He’s one of several Braves who warrants All-Star consideration.

Foltynewicz spoke with reporters before Friday’s game in St. Louis. He elaborated on his breakout season, excelling teammates and the importance of harnessing his slider.

Q: How would you asses the first half of your season?

A: "It's just been a hell of a lot of fun. You just go through your day, get your hard work in and it's really paying off. All of us guys are working hard. The starting staff has good chemistry together and we're all pulling for each other. Same with the relievers and this whole team, really. It's fun. You win games and you just have a lot more fun when everyone's on the same page. Just the confidence in myself has gotten better going out there. Pitch with conviction instead of just going out there and trying to throw 107 (mph) every time. I'm making pitches, being a pitcher instead of a thrower and hitting the hard spots."

Q: Has that been the biggest difference for you this season? Overcoming that mental hurdle?

A: "I think so. You're right on top of that hill and you've kind of fallen back last year a little bit. I think we're right at the top of that hill, trying to go over it. It's just certain situations, I'm settling down and focusing pitch-by-pitch instead of who's on deck or who's coming up in three batters, or a situation that hasn't happened yet. You just have to go out there and after that ball leaves your hand, you can't do anything with it. I think I've gotten a lot better with that as well. There are still certain situations where I wear my heart on my sleeve, but we're winning games this year and it's been a lot of fun. The confidence, slowing things down has been the biggest step for me."

Q: How much fun has it been coming to the ballpark this year as opposed to years past?

A: "It's tough. When you get in that early stretch and you lose right away, you have to pull yourself together all year, 140-something games you're trying to catch back up with Washington or whoever's in first place the last couple years. Now we're in first place for the majority of the year. We're relaxed but at the same time the guys are getting their work in. There's no messing around. We're having a lot of fun with it. You've got a good mix of veteran guys with the young dudes. Having a great time, meshing really well and we'll take that at 7:00 every night."

Q: Your name – along with Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Nick Markakis and Sean Newcomb – has been floated in All-Star Game consideration. Do you pay any attention to that?

A: "It's weird because any pitcher who's trying to make the All-Star team, you don't hear about them because of the voting system. But Newk, Mint (A.J. Minter, Wink (Dan Winkler), they definitely deserve it this year, especially with the way they've been carrying themselves. Still young dudes and this is almost their first full year. Just knowing what to do, how to prepare your body, all that fun stuff. Newk's just been fun to watch every step. He deserves it more than anyone on this team. Just the strides he's made over the course of this one season, it's proven remarkable."

Q: How important has your slider been to your success?

A: "Huge. When I got drafted, Houston banged that pitch and I got it back in the '13, '14 season. I could just never throw it over 86 mph. I just had troubles. Then all of a sudden, I don't know if it was '16 or '15, I started throwing it a little harder, 88, 89. Now you just have to know what to do with it. I can throw it hard now, now I just have to control it, be able to throw my slider for strikes, use it in 3-2 counts and strike some guys out. It's just having the confidence in that pitch and being able to let it rip in any count. And these guys are going to swing at it or I know I'm going to be able to throw a strike and you're going to ground out or take it. It's been a huge pitch for me this year. It's been my most improved pitch and it's only going to get better."

Q: At what point did you commit yourself to improving it and upping its usage?

A: "Probably last year when I threw it harder and right where it needs to be. Just like, 'Ok. Now I have to pick my spots and where to throw it.' Just being able to control it and my change-up is the biggest thing. Just being able to throw that in games, especially when there's so many lefties in today's game, they just have everything coming into them. It's nice to have the change-up as a weapon. I feel comfortable throwing it to righties too. So I think the slider and change-up, just that combo I have, with a curveball and fastball is pretty devastating. So I just have to be able to control it all, strike some people out, get some people out, not have them hit it. That's the name of the game."