Mike Foltynewicz provides everything Braves wanted to see in return

Mike Foltynewicz #26 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the interleague game on August 6, 2019 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Credit: Hannah Foslien

Credit: Hannah Foslien

Mike Foltynewicz #26 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the interleague game on August 6, 2019 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Welcome back to the 2019 season, Mike Foltynewicz. The Braves are accepting you with open arms. And if Tuesday was a sign of what’s coming, it might be one of the best stories out of Atlanta in recent memory.

Foltynewicz, back from his Triple-A reset, looked like an All-Star again in a win over Minnesota. His slider was working, he never gave in when counts went deep and he was unrelenting even when Twins hitters seemed to have the upper hand. He allowed three runs over 5-1/3 innings but outpitched that line by a sizable margin.

“It felt like right after spring training, just glad to get that one out of the way,” he said. “All my pitches were working. For five innings it seemed we just kept them off-balance, went uptown, in-out with the fastball, slider was there tonight. We threw just enough change-ups to keep it in the back of their heads. So overall a pretty good night, I just wish I had that sixth inning back.”

The Braves won 12-7 behind the hard-throwing righty they expected to top their rotation entering spring. The promise of Foltynewicz was a more significant development than stomping one of the American League’s best teams.

What Foltynewicz showed Tuesday had been a rarity this season. The Braves sure would welcome more of it: His theoretical revival changes the makeup of the roster. Make no mistake, Foltynewicz at even 70 percent of last season’s edition changes the Braves’ outlook in October.

“That was really good, really good,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s like what I was reading in the reports, hearing. I loved the total package. … It was everything you were looking to see. Slider was really good, really improved. Command of his fastball. He used his whole assortment. It was very encouraging. He was turning it loose and staying in the moment and pitching.”

This wasn’t a pitcher who owned an ERA north of 6.00 in 11 starts prior to his demotion. This was the pitcher who had a sub-3.00 ERA with over 200 strikeouts last season. Maybe that minor-league stint, as distressing as it probably was, could have been just what the 27-year-old needed.

Foltynewicz’s last outing in the majors (June 22) summed up his season-long ineffectiveness. It concluded months of struggles that began in spring training, when Foltynewicz’s exhibition season was wiped out by a bone spur in his elbow.

That fateful night in Washington, he allowed eight runs in four innings, with news leaking a few hours later that he’d be demoted to Triple-A. It capped the most embarrassing sequence of his career.

As for when he’d return, the onus was on Foltynewicz. The Braves moved forward, considering other rotation options and quickly adapting to life without their departed ace. That wouldn’t be easy for any player to go through, but for Foltynewicz, who made so many strides a year ago to maximize his potential, it was especially heart-wrenching.

His only option: Earn your way back. Foltynewicz made six starts on the farm, posting a 2.67 ERA. He struck out 31 against eight walks. He didn’t allow a long ball in homer-friendly Triple-A. Foltynewicz had allowed homers in all but three of his starts in the majors, including permitting six multi-homer games.

So his first game back in the bigs was, naturally, against the Twins, who led the majors with 219 homers. Foltynewicz mowed them down for five innings before succumbing to their power in the sixth.

His final inning was somewhat compromised by his offense, which accounting for a half-hour top of the frame which resulted in six runs. Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver did the damage against Foltynewicz, whose evening ended after the latter’s home run.

“It’s a curse and a blessing a little bit,” Foltynewicz said of the lengthy layover before retaking the mound. “You absolutely love to see it. Runs are runs, especially in this game. You see how easily it can be to score that many runs. But you try as much as you can, when you’re sitting there that long, to stay loose and focused.”

It was an underwhelming end to an otherwise encouraging outing. Foltynewicz’s arsenal seemed back to its old form. The slider was most exciting, showing signs of regaining the life it had in 2018. Foltynewicz felt across his last four starts, including Tuesday, the slider has been the best it’s been this year.

“I know this was only one outing, but I’m just ready to help this team win,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to win a World Series and get back to where I was last year. I’m finally getting there. It’s just taking a little longer than anybody wanted. I hope that little glimpse there (shows) I’m ready to help this team win.”

Through five innings, Foltynewicz only allowed one runner to reach second. He navigated base runners during the first three frames but notched a couple perfect innings before the sixth. His velocity played up, his mechanics sound, his emotions in check.

Even with the two homers, Foltynewicz was pleased with his return. And his teammates, who never lost faith in his return, were thrilled for him.

“He looked great,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “He had everything working those first five innings. (He was throwing) 93, 94 mph in the first and was hitting 98 when he needed to. He had everything working. You knew what he was doing from pitch one.”

Foltynewicz’s next start will come against the hapless Marlins this weekend, an opportunity to continue pitching with conviction and building on Tuesday.

As for the immediate future, the Braves will try for a series victory Wednesday when Max Fried faces fellow lefty Martin Perez. After Tuesday’s win, the Braves are 30-27 against teams above .500 this season.

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