The Braves’ sent their 2018 Ace to the mound for the third time this season since being called up from his rehab stint Gwinnett. Lamentably, Foltynewicz looked eerily similar to the guy who pitched in his first two outings.
So far, Folty has been much more like Julio Teheran on his bad days than the All-Star pitcher from a year ago. His velocity is down slightly, but the real problem is his off-speed stuff; which has not been trustworthy in any capacity.
The slider – a pitch that has slowly become Foltynewicz’s go-to secondary option – has looked nothing like it did a year ago when he threw it 27.2% of the time. In 2019, he’s thrown it even more (30.2%) but with polar opposite results. Folty isn’t getting that sharp down and away break at 87 MPH as we’ve seen in the past. Instead, it looks more like a slow spinning fastball that hangs over the middle of the plate waiting to get blasted. Against the Dodgers, the results off of the slider weren’t as bad as his first two appearances, but the pitch itself looked no different. Folty was fortunate Los Angeles didn’t take advantage more often.
As a result, Foltynewicz attempted to throw a little more variety at the Dodgers loaded lineup, including a curveball; which looked identical to his abysmal slider only five miles slower. That’s the pitch that Kike Hernandez sent well into the left-field bleachers for the Dodgers first two runs of the game.
On the bright side, Folty has been unusually efficient this year – a perplexing thought considering how much more dominant his stuff has looked in year’s past. He’s thrown 90 pitches or less in all of his starts and finished six innings last night despite giving up five earned runs. 2018 Folty, probably doesn’t have the mental capacity to get through six innings when pitching that poorly. So if there is a glass half full way of looking at this; Foltynewicz could be even more unhittable this season once, or if, he finds his reliable slider.
That’s going to be the key for him – reeling in the slider. There’s a couple of potential catalysts for why his breaking pitches have been so sub-par. Hopefully, it’s because of his lack of work before the season. Folty didn’t participate in spring training due to an elbow injury, which may be causing him to shake off the rust a bit at the major league level – a much easier proposition said than done.
The less optimistic outlook is that his elbow injury is more severe than it’s been made out to be. Last year, Foltynewicz had to spend time on the DL because of the same injury. Perhaps it is not an issue that can be fixed by rest and prayer. He may have to shut it down and have surgery eventually. If that is the case, it makes sense why his breaking stuff has been flat and easily hittable.
The Braves need Foltynewicz to be the pitcher he was last year. They didn’t have enough firepower in the rotation a year ago when he was their best option. Now, they have a couple of young studs (Max Fried and Mike Soroka) ready to contribute, but they need their Ace back. The only way that happens is if Folty regains confidence in his off-speed stuff. If he doesn’t, the 2018 All-Star could find himself out of the rotation all together down the road – even if an injury is not the primary concern.
(Photo by Kyusung Gong/Icon Sportswire)