Braves starting pitching backup plan might be Mike Foltynewicz

Mike Foltynewicz has rediscovered velocity at Braves alternate site, according to GM.

Back in July, the Atlanta Braves thought they were done with Mike Foltynewicz. That the former All-Star pitcher would have to get his once-promising career back on track somewhere else. It now appears that they were wrong.

Foltynewicz is currently working out at the Braves’ alternate site in Gwinnett and, according to General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, looking much better than when they last saw him up with the big league club.

It was a disastrous outing for the right-hander. In his only start of the season, on July 27 in Tampa Bay, Foltynewicz gave up six earned runs in 3.1 innings. His fastball velocity, which averaged 94.8 mph last year and more than 96 mph in 2018, declined to 90.9. He threw 15 fastballs against the Rays, not one that clocked above 92. His power sinker, which he threw more than a quarter of the time in 2019 and averaged 95, fell to under 90.

The Braves had seen enough of Foltynewicz and designated him for assignment, just two seasons after he was named to his first All-Star team. Any of the other 29 teams could’ve claimed him off waivers but none did. The Braves then sent him down to Gwinnett to try to figure out what went so wrong.

In 2018, Foltynewicz won 13 games for the Braves and ranked sixth in the NL with a 2.85 ERA. In his final 10 starts in 2019, he went 9-1 with a 2.65 ERA, striking out nearly a batter per inning and holding opponents to a .211 average. He shut out the St. Louis Cardinals for seven innings in Game 2 of the NLDS and was called upon to start the decisive fifth game of the series.

But then his career began on the precipitous drop that he’s currently trying to recover from. He gave up seven runs, six of them earned, in a third of an inning, part of a 10-run outburst by the Cardinals that essentially ended the competitive portion of the game as soon as it began.

There is an opening for someone of Foltynewicz’s caliber to join the rotation

Anthopoulos, though, says Foltynewicz is back to throwing around 94 mph at Gwinnett and could be called upon in September to rejoin the Braves starting rotation. It’s a pitching staff that is in desperate need of some help. Max Fried has been a Cy Young contender, but the rest of the Braves starters haven’t contributed much to their 19-14 start.

Other than Fried and rookie Ian Anderson, no Braves starter has lasted through the fifth inning since Aug. 8. In 21 of their 33 games, the Braves starting pitcher didn’t make it out of the fifth; of the 12 starts of five innings or longer, Fried has seven of them while the now-injured Mike Soroka has two. No other starter has more than one such game.

Fried has five of the six wins earned by Braves starters so far in 2020. The rest of the rotation is a combined 1-10 with a 7.23 ERA. Manager Brian Snitker has resorted to turning Josh Tomlin, who began the season in the bullpen, into a starter. Anthopoulos traded for Tommy Milone from the Baltimore Orioles for some help, but he gave up seven runs in 2.1 innings in his first start for the Braves on Sunday.

There is an opening for someone of Foltynewicz’s caliber to join the rotation and make a contribution. It seemed like he would never get the opportunity to do that in July, but the Braves appear ready to give him a second chance.

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