The Braves head to Philadelphia today to take on the Phillies for four games, beginning their seven-game divisional road trip. To get things started, Mike Foltynewicz will toe the rubber against Aaron Nola in a battle of electric arms.
Folty has been a totally different pitcher since returning to Atlanta after being demoted to AAA Gwinnett. His fastball has a little more pop, his slider is much crisper, and he’s even found some confidence in his changeup that looked like a beach ball to hitters earlier in the season. As a result, he has a 3.31 ERA in his six starts since rejoining the Braves, and the team has won all six of those games.
While those numbers might scream, “Folty is back,” I wouldn’t quite go that far. The hard-throwing right-hander is still having a difficult time going deep into ball games, averaging just over five innings per outing, and some numbers paint a vivid picture as to why that is the case.
Folty's past five starts entering tonight:
First two times through a lineup: 21 IP, .235/.303/.358, .661 OPS
Third time through: 6 IP, .367/.424/.700, 1.124 OPS
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) September 4, 2019
So while Folty is indeed back to some degree, he has not quite returned to his 2018 self – the guy who lead the league in complete games with two.
The Braves rotation has been lights out since August. Mike Soroka is the ace, but he’s actually been the one struggling the most as of late. Max Fried has turned into a top-of-the-rotation option. Dallas Keuchel has an ERA of 0.87 over his previous five starts. Julio Teheran’s ERA is 1.08 in his last four outings. When you take all of that into consideration, it’s difficult to imagine Foltynewicz warranting a start come October. Folty may have the upside that some of the others do not, but the consistency has not been there, and he’s running out of time to prove himself. However, his numbers suggest he might be best utilized coming out of the bullpen.
Now, starting games and being used in relief are two different beasts. As a reliever, you have to be aggressive and attack hitters from the start. We’ve seen Folty do that in his return. We’ve also watched former starters like Max Fried and Sean Newcomb thrive coming out of the bullpen, especially initially. Foltynewicz’s numbers the third time through the order are no fluke. There’s something there that he is going to have to work out, but it’s unlikely he figures it out before the postseason. I’ll be interested to see if the Braves start giving him some opportunities to pitch in relief before the season ends – because as of now – it seems like that is where he is best suited come October.