After blood-clot scare, Braves’ Folty relieved for return to normal

 

A year ago at this time, Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz was nearing the midpoint of a nearly three-month period of mandated inactivity, recovering from emergency surgery to remove part of a rib after thoracic outlet syndrome caused potential catastrophic blood clots to form in his right arm. His pitching arm.

Mike Foltynewicz had an encouraging season after bouncing back from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in September 2015. (AP photo)

Mike Foltynewicz had an encouraging season after bouncing back from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in September 2015. (AP photo)

“It wasn’t pretty,” he said of the anxious months that followed his late-September 2015 surgery. “I was worried I might not even play the game again. All that was running through my head. And then once you find out you’re alright, you say, OK, now we’ve got to get to rehabbing.

“I was with Braves physical therapist Lloyd van Pamelen three times a week, and for a month and a half they wouldn’t let me do anything. And with blood thinners, I couldn’t do anything (strenuous) with that for a while, too. So it was just a weird offseason for me.”

Move forward 12 months to the present, and Foltynewicz is nearing the end of a one-month rest period of a different kind. The normal kind, following a bounce-back season that saw the hard-throwing redhead rejoin the Braves at the beginning of May and go 9-5 with a 4.31 ERA in 22 starts, totaling 111 strikeouts with 35 walks in 123 1/3 innings.

He also made five Triple-A starts, four in April while he finished working himself into game shape after being held back early in spring training.

“The growth that we saw this year with him – he’s come a long way since the beginning,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He learned a lot. It was a good, solid year for him.”

Good enough to make Foltynewicz, who turned 25 in October, one of only two apparent certainties – along with staff ace Julio Teheran – for the Braves rotation in 2017. The team hopes to add at least two proven starters through free agency or trades, possibly leaving young pitchers Matt Wisler, Tyrell Jenkins and Aaron Blair to compete for the last spot or two along with the likes of veteran Josh Collmenter if the Braves offer him arbitration.

Unlike last year, Foltynewicz felt good resting this October. He could relax instead of worrying during the down time.

“Just take the normal month off, like you should, then start getting back into things around November, just have a normal offseason,” said Foltynewicz, who will spend November working out and adding muscle to his wiry frame, then begin his throwing program in December.

A year ago he couldn’t throw a baseball whatsoever until Christmas, and then only lobbed it as he began the tedious process of rebuilding his arm strength.

This year? The arm is strong, his velocity was back to the upper-90 mph range during the 2016 season — and Foltynewicz did that despite being much lighter than he prefers after losing about 20 pounds, plenty of it muscle, during last winter’s recuperation.

“Start working out, start throwing on a normal schedule instead of waiting around and being on blood thinners,” he said of his current offseason plans. “I’m excited for it. Just excited to have a normal offseason like everyone else…. I couldn’t do anything (last year) from late September till the middle of December. So yes, (to say) it’s a relief isn’t a strong enough word.”

His other minor league start in 2016 came in June, when Foltynewicz missed a month for small bone spurs in his pitching elbow, a condition that didn’t require surgery.

Any concerns about him being able to pitch with the bone spurs were alleviated when he pitched 90 innings in 16 starts after returning to the rotation on June 30. In his final nine starts, Foltynewicz was 5-0 with a 3.88 ERA, posting 49 strikeouts with 14 walks and five home runs allowed in 51 innings.

The reduction in walks and homers in that season-ending stretch was also encouraging from Foltynewicz, after he’d given up 21 walks and 13 home runs in 72 1/3 innings over his first 13 starts.

As the season wore on, Foltynewicz showed more and more why the Braves decided to keep developing him as a starter, rather than move him to the bullpen when he struggled at times in 2015 and early in 2016.

Former Braves pitching great Tom Glavine, a Hall of Famer and part-time broadcaster for the team, said in mid-July that he was impressed by how Foltynewicz had begun to realize he didn’t need to be so fine and nibble at the corners of the plate.

“I think he’s kind of figured out (he can be) more aggressive with the fastball in the zone,” Glavine said. “Look, you throw 97 miles an hour and you can throw it for strikes, that immediately gets hitters’ attention. And you mix that other stuff (secondary pitches) in at a fairly decent rate in terms of throwing it for strikes? Whew….

“Obviously you look at him and think, he could be a great closer, that he has that potential. But that’s the kind of arm you exhaust every opportunity to be a starter, and then if that doesn’t work then you go to Plan B (make him a closer). But I think he’s starting to figure out that, with the stuff he has, he can be a little bit more aggressive in the zone, not trying to hit that black and that corner. It’s quite a progression, it’s good to see it from him.”

There were days and nights when he looked, frankly, like one of the most talented young arms in the National League: Foltynewicz had eight strikeouts with no walks in seven innings against Arizona on May 8, then pitched eight scoreless innings with no walks at Kansas City six days later. In a July 10 road game against the White Sox, he had 10 strikeouts with no walks and five hits allowed in seven scoreless innings.

In a Sept. 7 start at Washington, he had eight strikeouts in six innings while allowing five hits, three walks and only one run. Then Foltynewicz got rocked for 11 hits and five runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Marlins on Sept. 12 and left the game after taking a line drive off his left calf.

After being sidelined more than two weeks for the painful calf contusion, Foltynewicz returned to pitch five scoreless innings in his final start Sept. 28 against the Phillies, allowing just two hits and one run with three walks and five strikeouts.

“That was a great way for him to finish his year,” Snitker said. “Strong, feeling good about things. Because I sure feel good about him right now…. He came a long way this year.

“Now he can have a normal offseason, where last year he had the surgery and was coming back from that. He can just do a normal (offseason), take some time off, get his workouts.”

• Let’s close with this one from Sturgill Simpson off his “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth,” one of the best albums of 2016.

“BRACE FOR IMPACT (LIVE A LITTLE)” by Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson

One day you wake up
And this life will be over
Every party must break up
For burdens to shoulder
We’re dying to live
Living to die
No matter what you believe
And all of us cry
For the ones we must leave
So go and live a little
Bone turns brittle
And skin withers before your eyes
Make sure you give a little
Before you go to the great unknown in the sky
Some will beg for forgiveness
From someone above
For something they did
To someone they love
Some scream like a baby
Some go out crying
Some bid the world goodbye
And welcome to die
Go out and live a little
Bone turns brittle
And skin withers before your eyes
Make sure you give a little
Before you go to the great unknown in the sky

 

 

 

 


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