Mike Foltynewicz looks ready to lead Braves in postseason

The righty took the mound Tuesday in San Francisco’s 62-degree weather with a pleasant breeze. His incoming outing would rival his career-best showing across the bay a season ago, when he took Oakland into the ninth with nothing in the hits column.

It wasn’t quite that dominant, but Foltynewicz pitched a complete game in northern California once again, permitting one run on five hits in the Braves’ 4-1 win. The only blemish came with two outs in the ninth, perhaps making the finish less sweet, but still providing context as to how masterful he was for eight-plus innings.

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“That was a good one,” Foltynewicz said. “I really wasn’t nervous like I had been every start for some reason. Just went out there and they were very aggressive tonight, so we had to take a look at that in the first inning. Do a lot of off-speed for first pitches. ... Had 97, 98 (mph) in my back pocket and used it for a couple high strikeouts. Curveball, change-up and slider were really first-pitch strikes.”

He saw the Giants were aggressive early, so he became attacking with off-speed. His slider pounded the zone, his curveball and change-up as pinpoint as they’ve been. Foltynewicz was still sitting in the high-90s late in the game, and his fastball grew more effective as the night went on.

“This is my first time really pitching in September,” Foltynewicz said. “Just going out there and pitching strong the whole game. This is a playoff race. Not many of us are used to that. We’re just taking it pitch-by-pitch and we’re having a lot of fun doing it, too.”

It was obvious his arsenal overpowered a lackadaisical Giants lineup, one that’s dragged its feet during the team’s 10-game losing skid. But that’s what aces are supposed to do: devastate the lesser teams. That’s been among the biggest strides Foltynewicz has made in 2018.

“The guy tonight we’re facing, he’s a big power arm and he’s having a big year, so we have our hands full,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy before the game, correctly predicting they would face an uphill climb.

Foltynewicz retired 13 in a row at one point, with only three clearing the infield. It was the seventh time in his past eight starts he allowed two or fewer runs. He and newcomer Kevin Gausman have given the Braves a chance every time they’ve started in the second half.

Foltynewicz, still only 26, hasn’t reached his potential. That adds even more intrigue. He was an All-Star, ranking among the National League leaders in the most important categories. His ERA now sits at 2.66, while he’s 14 strikeouts away from 200, a plateau no Brave has reached since Javier Vazquez in 2009.

Tuesday showcased Foltynewicz’s best. Making matters better, the Braves’ win paired with the Phillies losing both games of a doubleheader versus Washington cut the magic number to 12. Foltynewicz piloted the Braves into a 6.5-game cushion in the NL East.

“Very, very impressed,” manager Brian Snitker said. “What a great night to pitch. His stuff was just really, really good. It was huge to give the bullpen a break like that.

“Everything was working. He was real efficient, got a lot of early count outs. And he was strong. It was one of those nights I felt like we could’ve stayed out there and pitched 160 pitches and not gotten tired.”

As the Braves close in on the division title, they’ll soon consider how to line up their postseason rotation. They have several options, but all of them include Foltynewicz, Gausman and Sean Newcomb at the forefront.

Foltynewicz probably will lead them off, a glowing honor that captures how far he’s come in the past three seasons. But as he and the Braves see it, concern yourself with today.

“That really hasn’t crossed my mind,” Foltynewicz said. “I know I’ve got maybe two or three starts left against some pretty good teams. That’s really my focus. That’s about it. See if there’s anything we can fix mechanically, anything like that and just go from there. But that hasn’t really crossed my mind. I’m sure we’ll talk about it when that time comes, but we’re just trying to get there first.”

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