By Mark Bowman, MLB.com
Mike Foltynewicz was the Braves’ Game 1 starter during the 2018 postseason and he was handed the ball with the season on the line during last year’s playoffs. But just one start into this year’s shortened season, his future is suddenly uncertain.
After watching Foltynewicz once again work with significantly decreased velocity in a 14-5 loss to the Rays on Monday night at Tropicana Field, Braves manager Brian Snitker announced the All-Star pitcher had been designated for assignment.
“After the last couple outings in [Summer Camp], we wanted to give it a go here, and it was the same,” Snitker said. “We didn’t see enough increase in the velocity. That’s who he’s been. He’s been a ‘stuff guy’ for the entire time we’ve had him. The stuff hasn’t been there.”
When Foltynewicz’s velocity sat between 89-91 mph during an exhibition game against the Marlins last week, he was understandably defiant, blaming the rain and the stadium’s radar gun. But his velocity had been similar in intrasquad games played over the previous couple weeks, and it didn’t get much higher in this season debut.
As Foltynewicz allowed the Rays six earned runs over 3 1/3 innings, his fastball averaged 89.3 mph and topped out at 92.9 mph. This same pitch averaged 95 mph last season and 96.5 mph during his 2018 All-Star season.
When Foltynewicz struggled at the start of last year’s injury-marred season, the Braves had the luxury of sending him to Triple-A to get right. This year is void of that option, or the time it might take for Foltynewicz to get back to where he was when he posted a 2.85 ERA in 2018, or when he produced a 1.73 ERA over his final seven starts last season.
Braves assistant general manager Perry Minasian delivered the news to Foltynewicz in the clubhouse just before the end of Monday’s game. If the 28-year-old right-hander is not claimed off waivers, there is a chance he could remain a part of the Braves’ organization and work out with the members of the team’s player pool who are working out at the organization’s Triple-A Gwinnett stadium.
“It’s not an easy thing to tell a guy that, especially a guy you’ve had for a long time that’s worked hard,” Snitker said. “He’s been a big part of this organization. I’m sure he was hurt.”
Unfortunately for Foltynewicz, he will always be remembered as the starting pitcher who got just one out during the 10-run first inning the Cardinals produced during the decisive Game 5 of last year’s National League Division Series.
Just five days earlier, he had limited St. Louis to three hits over seven scoreless innings in Game 2.
In what might have been his last act in a Braves uniform, Foltynewicz allowed the Rays to belt three home runs, including the back-to-back homers that Hunter Renfroe and Joey Wendle hit during an eight-run fourth inning.
So, where do the Braves go from here?
Sean Newcomb didn’t create much long-term confidence when he needed 82 pitches to record 10 outs during Sunday’s win over the Mets. Kyle Wright approaches Tuesday night’s start with a high upside, but the Braves’ promising No. 4 prospect still hasn’t proven himself.
So, beyond Mike Soroka and Max Fried, the Braves’ rotation consists of a whole lot of uncertainty. A portion of this problem can be attributed to top offseason acquisition Cole Hamels, who will be on the injured list until at least Sept. 5 with left triceps tendinitis.
At some point, the Braves might enrich the rotation with the addition of Ian Anderson, MLB Pipeline’s No. 37 prospect. But when Foltynewicz’s previous spot comes up again on Saturday, Snitker might just mix and match Jhoulys Chacín, Josh Tomlin, Touki Toussaint or whoever might be available that day.
“It’s going to be all hands on deck getting to that spot,” Snitker said. “It could be one of two or three guys. It could be an opener. It could be a number of different scenarios; just dependent on how we get there.”