A shocking turn: The Braves dump Mike Foltynewicz

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Braves manager Brian Snitker announces that pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, who has experienced subpar velocity, has been designated for assignment.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Last year he lost his slider. This year he has lost his fastball. Not long ago, those pitches made Mike Foltynewicz an All-Star. Now he’s jobless. The Braves designated him for assignment Monday night after his first start of the long-delayed regular season.

He yielded three home runs over two innings in St. Petersburg on Monday night. In an exhibition against the Marlins last week, he was touched for back-to-back-to-back homers. That night he claimed he was throwing hard and the Truist Park radar gun was shorting him. Last night his fastball averaged – this in a different stadium with a different gun – 89.3 mph. According to Brooks Baseball, his four-seamer averaged 96.8 mph in 2018, his All-Star season.

The Braves insist there are no health issues, which also means there’s no explanation. Last summer they demoted him to Gwinnett to try to relocate the bite on his slider, which had gone missing. He did. After the Braves blew the National League Division Series opener against St. Louis, he worked the best start of his career, outdoing the excellent Jack Flaherty in the must-win Game 2. Folty’s numbers that night: seven innings, no runs, three hits, no walks, seven strikeouts.

His numbers in the never-to-be-forgotten Game 5: one-third of an inning, three hits, three walks, seven runs, six earned. Five days after his finest 2-1/2 hours as a Brave, he could retire only one hitter, that on a sacrifice bunt.

The Braves have known their share of strange pitching stories. (All teams have, FYI.) What went wrong with Jair Jurrjens? What happened with Mike Minor? How did Julio Teheran slip from near-No.-1-starter status to No. 4 if not 5? Foltynewicz’s case is the strangest of the lot. So far as we (and the Braves) know, he hasn’t been injured. As manager Brian Snitker said Monday night: “He has been a ‘stuff’ guy for the entire time we’ve had him. And the stuff hasn’t been there.”

The slider stopped sliding last year. The fastball got a lot slower this summer. Without a heater, what’s left of Mike Foltynewicz, power pitcher? He’s not apt to re-invent himself as a nibbler, the way Teheran did. And in this two-month irregular season, the Braves’ patience isn’t without limits. Said Snitker: ”In the short season, it’s just not happening right now. And we kind of feel a sense of urgency.”

For Foltynewicz to remain a Brave, 29 teams would have to pass on acquiring a presumably healthy 28-year-old starter at the waiver price, and then he’d have to accept a minor-league assignment here. (This at a time when the minors aren’t playing.) After last year’s demotion and this year’s DFA’ing, it’s reasonable to assume he has had enough of the Braves, who’ve obviously seen too much of him. It is, we say again, weird.

Weirder still is that this comes at a time when the Braves are without Cole Hamels at least until September, without Felix Hernandez after his opt-out. Sean Newcomb, removed from last year’s rotation, had been designated the team’s No. 3 starter, ahead of Foltynewicz, but Newcomb didn’t make it through four innings Sunday, a night the Braves won 14-1 in New York. (He managed only one strikeout, which isn’t like him.)

Kyle Wright is scheduled to start tonight against Tampa Bay. He couldn’t hold a rotational spot last year, but he had a good summer camp – and, a while back, a nice spring. It wasn’t so long ago we were thinking the Braves had a surplus of starters, which only goes to show that nobody ever has a surplus of starters. The journeyman Jhoulys Chacin, signed a week ago for a second Braves stint, already is a big man on this campus.

Under Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves have become a measured team in their dealings. (The previous two general managers were, shall we say, less circumspect.) It’s no secret that the Braves grew frustrated by Foltynewicz; it’s shocking that – in a season that began four months late and has seen them play only four games – they’ve already given up on a guy who, as Snitker conceded, “has been a big part of this organization.”

The Braves wouldn’t have won the East in 2018 without him. They wouldn’t have won with such ease last year had he not returned from exile to go 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA in September. Apparently none of that matters now. Having decided they don’t know what to do with Foltynewicz, the Braves also decided they were tired of trying. Not much shocks me anymore. This, though, comes close.

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