NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP) — When Mike Foltynewicz was asked how long it took him to get over his nightmarish start in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, he said “two or three days.”
The Atlanta Braves pitcher said he quickly turned his attention to wife Brittany, son Mike and daughter Lola. They not only supported the former all-star but visited when he was demoted by the Braves.
“They’re my biggest support system,” he said during spring training. “They calmed me down and relaxed me.
“You have to get over the social media – that can be pretty hard – and put that stuff away and be a dad and husband.”
The forgettable Game 5 – Foltynewicz left with a 4-0 deficit in the first inning that turned into 10-0, then a 13-1 loss – capped a roller-coaster season.
He missed most of the spring last year because of an arm injury that led to a bone spur in his right elbow and a trip to the 10-day disabled list in late March.
After an all-star season in 2018 that saw him go 13-10 with a 2.85 earned-run average and finish eighth in Cy Young voting, Foltynewicz started 0-3 record with an 8.02 ERA after his first four 2019 starts. With a 2-5 mark and 6.22 ERA by June 22, Foltynewicz was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett for six weeks.
When he returned, Foltynewicz won six straight. He finished the regular season with an 8-6 record and lowered his ERA to 4.54.
The resurgence continued in the postseason when the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Foltynewicz threw a shutout over seven innings vs. the Cardinals in a 3-0 win. He walked none, struck out seven and had four 1-2-3 innings.
And then came Game 5.
“It was a long season for sure,” he said. “Great playoff game, bad playoff game.
“The reason really had its up and downs. Midseason, things went really south. I had to step up physically and mentally.”
While he said teammates, coaches and management continued to encourage him, Foltynewicz said his family visiting him while on road trips in Charlotte and Durham, North Carolina lifted his spirits.
“All this stuff is stressful and creates a lot of anxiety,” he said. “I was an all-star. When you can’t figure it out and you’re trying your hardest and not feeling right and competing against some of the guys in the world, it’s tough to have confidence. But my family and teammates were there at the end of the day.
“I also had to look at myself in the mirror, I had to look myself in the face and man up.”
Because Foltynewicz missed most of last spring, Braves manager Brian Snitker said he played catch up all year and it finally caught up to him.
“A healthy start is the key to having a good start,” Snitker said. “I think spring training is all about the pitchers. Position players come along before (pitchers) do. Spring training is for the starters. That’s the only reason we have all these games.”
In his first spring-training start Tuesday, Foltynewicz said it couldn’t have gone much better. Using mainly his fastball and change-up, he walked none and struck out three.
“I wasn’t going to throw curves or sliders so I mixed in the fastball and change-up,” he said. “They seemed aggressive. Every change I threw, they’d swing and miss or foul the ball. I’ve been working on that change since I was traded from Houston (after 2014 season).
“All the elite guys throw it and have success with it. When guys are geared up for the fastball and you have that change in the back pocket, you can put that in their minds. And it seems to cause a little trouble, based on how guys will talk when they go to the bench.”
Even the home run, he said, just missed in location.
“It was a good pitch,” Foltynewicz said, “but at the same time, a good swing.”
Foltynewicz acknowledged he was a little nervous before that initial spring start. As much as the Braves and family helped, getting back on the mound proved to be great therapy.
“I want to prove to the team and teammates who I am, why I’m here and what I can do,” he said. “It’s a good start to get out of the way.
“I want to put 2019 behind me and really go this time.”
Notes: St. Louis RHP Jack Flaherty, the winning pitcher in Game 5 against the Braves, went 2 2/3 innings. He gave up one earned run on two hits. He walked three and struck out one. Of his 49 pitches, 29 were strikes. … Atlanta RHP Felix Hernandez also allowed one earned run in 2 2/3 innings. He had no walks and four strikeouts. Of his 49 pitches, 33 were strikes. … Cool Today Park lived up to its name with 63-degree temperatures at game time. … RHPs Mike Soroka and Bryce Wilson will start in Atlanta’s first split-squad games this spring. … Snitker said relievers A.J. Minter and Jacob Webb are “doing progressions” after their seasons ended in injuries last season. “They’re feeling good and will do more BP and live BP,” Snitker said.