The following Q&A appears in the Opening Week edition of “Tomahawk Talk,” the official gameday publication of the Gwinnett Braves. Pick up a FREE copy at Coolray Field from April 14-20.
Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz experienced his fair share of ups and downs in 2015, his first season as a member of the Atlanta Braves organization.
Acquired as part of the trade that sent catcher Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros on January 14, 2015, Foltynewicz entered the year ranked the Braves’ No. 3 prospect by MLB.com. He began the season in Triple-A Gwinnett and was the club’s Opening Day starter. After posting a 2.08 ERA in his first four starts with the G-Braves, he was recalled by Atlanta and joined the Major League rotation on May 1.
Foltynewicz displayed a fastball that touched triple digits while going 3-2 with a 3.96 ERA in his first six starts with the Braves. He struggled over his next 12 outings, however, going 1-4 with a 6.97 ERA.
As he worked to refine his pitches and regain his early-season form, Foltynewicz was dealt a pair of health setbacks in September.
On September 2, he was placed on the Braves disabled list with costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects each rib to the sternum. On September 21, a life-threatening blood clot was discovered in his right arm that prompted surgery to remove part of one of his ribs.
Six months later, Foltynewicz is fully healed from the surgery and is beginning his journey back to Atlanta with a stint in Gwinnett. Andrew Constant of Tomahawk Talk caught up with the man fans call “Folty” to talk about the surgery, his rehab and moving forward.
Andrew Constant: I know it was a weird offseason for you, but are you feeling good and getting back to full-strength now?
Mike Foltynewicz: Right now I’m just trying to focus on getting my strength and stamina back in the game. My body feels good now; I dropped 20 pounds, so I’m trying to get a little of that (weight) back and maybe that’ll help me with the strength and stamina, but other than that the arm feels good.
AC: The injury you suffered last year was an uncommon one. Was there any fear in you when it first happened?
MF: There really was. My right arm was three times the size of my other arm and I didn’t know what happened. I went to the trainers and they said to get to the hospital immediately. It was just sinking in that ‘this is life-threatening’ and you don’t even worry about baseball at that point. You worry about getting healthy. It was scary, but once (the doctors) knew what it was and they could figure it out, it was a little easier on my mind. It wasn’t a fun process.
AC: You had to have part of a rib taken out. What was it like having to rehab from that procedure this offseason?
MF: It wasn’t that bad, really after that two-week span where we found (the blood clot) and got rid of it and then all of this stuff took care of itself. It was really an easy process after that, but it was a lot of sitting around and I couldn’t do a lot of the things I like to do like golfing or playing basketball with my friends. I’m just glad I got it taken care of and I’m healthy and I’m back out on a baseball field and still pitching after that. I’m a lucky guy and I’m thankful for all of it. I hope I can get back to 100 percent and keep battling.
AC: This is your second season in the Braves’ organization. Do you feel more comfortable this year?
MF: Oh yeah, 100 percent more comfortable. A lot of these guys are in the same position I was last year, being a new guy in the organization. I was luckily a part of it last year with like 20 new guys, so there were a lot of guys in that boat with me and that really helped me get through it. We’re all buddies now and this is a great group of guys right here. We’re going to have a lot of fun here and hopefully all get to go up to Atlanta together. (Braves) fans are going to have a lot of fun watching this group for the next 4-5 years.
AC: You got off to a late start in Spring Training, how would you sum up your pitching in Florida?
MF: It was a little bit shaky down there. It’s weird, my off-speed pitches are there, but my fastball isn’t, which is kind of the opposite from last year. I was working on the (change-up), slider and curveball last year in the spring. But everything is there, I just need to get back to pitching and not (worrying about how I feel). We know at the same time though that I need to be worried about both. Once I get that happy medium and I’m ready to go, then I’ll start pitching and I’m just happy to be back on the mound. I was at 70 pitches in my last outing (of Spring Training) and everything felt good. I just left a few pitches up and I gave up quite a few home runs, but get them out of the way early is what I like to say. I think I’ll be just fine when I’m reading swings and whatnot.
AC: This is your second year with Gwinnett, is familiarity with this team helpful in returning?
MF: A little bit, but once you get out on that mound in front of all those people, you get a little nervous and some butterflies in the system. After that first pitch, it’s another baseball game and you just go out there and pitch. It is kind of cool, having been here last year and knowing what to expect. It’s always a rush out there on Opening Day and in that first series. I’m glad I get to be a part of it.
AC: Does it also help that you’ll face some International League opponents for the second or third time this season, as opposed to last year when you were just learning the league?
MF: Absolutely. Sitting in the dugout watching or charting from the stands, you are able to see it in front of you and all the video we have now is helpful. Hopefully being here last year helps give me a leg up seeing some of those guys. It’s a good league, there’s a lot of good hitters so you have to study up or they’ll take advantage of you.
AC: Do you have a certain goal for the 2016 season?
MF: My goal in the spring was to just get out there in a game and I did that. I haven’t really set a goal after that. I didn’t know what to expect; I had never had a surgery before so I wasn’t sure how this would go. I’m just hoping it’s all going to stay intact and nothing goes badly. But beyond that, just get back to the Major Leagues and while I’m here, get my work in and grind it out. There’s really nothing else you can do, just go out and pitch. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m just thankful to be able to still pitch after what happened. I’m excited for the season.