9:15am: The Braves have optioned Foltynewicz and recalled reliever Chad Sobotka, per a team announcement.
8:24am: Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz was the Braves’ No. 1 starter a year ago, when he seemingly broke out with a 2.85 ERA/3.37 FIP in 183 innings. Now, after a rough opening to 2019, he’ll be the Braves’ most accomplished starter in the minors. They’re optioning Foltynewicz to Triple-A Gwinnett, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports. The club will call up a reliever to fill Foltynewicz’s roster spot Sunday, per David O’Brien of The Athletic.
Foltynewicz started the Braves’ win over the Nationals on Saturday, but he didn’t contribute to his team’s cause. The 27-year-old yielded eight earned runs on eight hits and two walks (with two strikeouts) over four innings. His ERA/FIP combo now sits at a bloated 6.37/6.10 across 59 1/3 frames this season. While Foltynewicz’s walk rate looks normal (3.03 per nine), the rest of his numbers have dipped as his ERA has skyrocketed. After fanning nearly 10 batters per nine a year ago, Foltynewicz’s K/9 is down to 7.58 – his worst since he began his Braves tenure in 2015. His groundball and fly ball figures have also gone in worrying directions, helping lead to a hefty 20.5 percent home run-to-FB rate.
It isn’t just homers haunting Foltynewicz, whose hard-hit rate against has gone up by more than 5 percent since 2018, according to Statcast. As a result, batters have managed a .373 weighted on-base average/.347 expected wOBA off him. A decline in velocity surely hasn’t helped matters. Foltynewicz led all NL starters in average fastball velo a year ago, clocking in at 96.4, but has seen the mean fall to 95.2 this season. With that in mind, it’s worth noting he began 2019 on the injured list because of elbow issues and didn’t debut until late April.
The Braves will now hope Foltynewicz can work his way back via the minors and return to help their cause down the stretch. Despite his struggles, the reigning NL East champions are charging toward another division title, boasting a 45-32 record and a 5 1/2-game lead over their nearest competitor. Standout rookie Mike Soroka has been their ace, while rotation mates Julio Teheran and Max Fried have logged decent production. The club also just added Dallas Keuchel, who made his season debut Friday. It’s unclear who will join them in Foltynewicz’s place, though Bowman names Triple-A righty Bryse Wilson as a possibility.
With Foltynewicz heading to Gwinnett for now, he’ll stop accruing big league service time. Having racked up 87 days of service this year, he’s at four years and 78 days for his career. As things stand, Foltynewicz is on track to reach free agency after the 2021 season. He’s on a somewhat pricey $5.48MM salary at the moment, making his demotion all the more notable.