Little more than three months after the Braves sent Mike Foltynewicz to the minor leagues, they will send him to the mound to start Game 2 of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park.
He is a classic example of how dramatically things can change over the course of a long baseball year, from being optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett with a 6.37 ERA on June 23 to being entrusted with the second game of the Braves’ postseason against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.
“I just kind of kept my head down and kept pushing, trucking, and a lot of things worked out,” Foltynewicz said Thursday. “I cleaned up my mechanics a little bit. But to see where I am at today, it was a little far-fetched (back then).
“At the same time, I kept the same goal and same dream that I’m going to be with these guys … when the playoffs come around.”
And here he is, matched up against the Cardinals’ young ace Jack Flaherty.
Foltynewicz, who in 2018 was a National League All-Star and the Braves’ best pitcher, found himself back in the minors after 11 mostly ineffective starts to open this season. He made six starts for the Stripers before rejoining the Braves on Aug. 5. Since then, he has gone 6-1 with a 2.65 ERA over 11 starts.
“Using all my off-speed (pitches), mixing pitches, especially throwing inside, keeping them off balance -- (that) has been a big key,” Foltynewicz said.
His early-season problems started when he missed almost all of spring training because of a bone spur in his right elbow. The problems compounded as he struggled into late June.
“When you come off a good season like (last year) and then you come into this year and you’re just not doing well, especially when the team is doing well, you’re trying so hard, so hard,” Foltynewicz said. “You don’t want to be the guy that drags the team down. But it seems like I was doing that at the beginning of the year.
“To come back, have them give me another chance … just for them to trust me again, it’s special.”
The Braves appreciate the way Foltynewicz responded to the demotion.
“When we talked to Folty, he was on board,” manager Brian Snitker recalled. “I think he felt like he needed to step back a little bit to get going again.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do, and it probably was at the very right time. … I give him a lot of credit for how he went down there and went about it, because when he came back he was the guy we had hoped he would be.”
Friday’s start will be Foltynewicz’s third this year against the Cardinals, his first against them post-Gwinnett. On May 14, he allowed eight runs (all earned) in 4-2/3 innings against the Cardinals at SunTrust Park. On May 24, he allowed one run (unearned) in six innings at Busch Stadium.
“My slider was on point that game,” Foltynewicz said Thursday of the May 24 start. He recalled Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos telling him after the game: “That’s where we need you to be.” But it didn’t last, resulting in the detour to Gwinnett.
Foltynewicz draws a tough opposing pitcher Friday, to say the least. Flaherty, 23, had a 0.91 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break, striking out 124 and walking 23 in 99-1/3 innings. For the full season, Flaherty was 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA, striking out 231 in 196-1/3 innings.
“Just going to try to ... continue to do what I’ve been doing and not try to do anything extra or do anything more because of the situation and circumstances,” Flaherty said of what will be his first career post-season game.
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