Last season, Atlanta Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz appeared to make good on his long-awaited promise. He set a new career-high with 31 starts, and recorded new career-bests in ERA (2.85) and strikeout rate (9.9 per nine). His performance earned him a spot on the All-Star team, as well as an eighth-place finish in Cy Young Award voting.
Unfortunately, Foltynewicz has not enjoyed similar success in 2019. On Saturday, he allowed eight runs in four innings against the Washington Nationals, running his seasonal ERA to 6.37 through 11 starts. Afterward, he was optioned to the minors.
Whenever a pitcher struggles like this, the first place worth looking is their velocity. Sure enough, Foltynewicz has lost a tick since last year: dipping from 96.3 to 95 mph, per Statcast. He's also lost spin on the pitch, and has shifted his approach to include more sinkers -- likely in response to batters slugging .688 against his four-seamer.
Foltynewicz's other main offering, his slider, has been less effective as well, be it at generating whiffs or avoiding barrels. Already this season, he's yielded six home runs against his slider, whereas last year he gave up just two.
It's fair to wonder if and how much Foltynewicz has been impacted by the bone spur in his throwing elbow that caused him to miss most of April. Whatever the answer, the Braves just hope he can get back on track with some time in the minors.
In the interim, it's unclear who will replace Foltynewicz in the big-league rotation. The top candidates would appear to be Sean Newcomb, who should be activated from the injured list in the coming days, and Bryse Wilson, who started for Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate on Saturday.