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‘Folty’ rejoins Braves rotation with something to prove

The season is two weeks old but, because of schedule quirks, Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz has made just one start. That didn’t go well, and neither did a subsequent relief appearance. Now Foltynewicz takes the mound against the Nationals on Tuesday looking to validate his spot in the rotation.

That’s how it goes for a young No. 5 starter on a veteran-laden staff. Foltynewicz earned his slot with a strong spring but he said he pitches as if he has to keep it.

“That’s any time, especially when you battle for a fifth spot in spring training with four or five other guys,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your game sharp when it’s up here. Anything can happen. It’s a business. If you are not performing…”

Foltynewicz labored to make it through 3 2/3 innings against the Pirates in his first start this season. He gave up two earned runs and walked four while throwing 91 pitches. Foltynewicz’s tendency to get frustrated by the strike zone reemerged in that game.

The Braves skipped his next turn while shuffling the rotation around off days. Foltynewicz came on in relief of Bartolo Colon against the Marlins on April 11 and gave up a two-run homer to Marcell Ozuna in the fifth inning that put the Marlins up 8-3.

Foltynewicz said pitching two innings of relief was beneficial. He said his confidence remains high after the strong spring.

“Got to go look off that and feel what I was feeling during spring training, which I’m not too far off of it right now,” he said.

Foltynewicz was an intriguing prospect when the Braves acquired him from the Astros in January, 2015, as part of the Evan Gattis trade. Much of his potential was because of his size (6-4, 220) and powerful arm (up to 100 mph as a rookie in 2014).

He had a promising start to the 2015 season before struggling with inconsistency. That season ended in September for Foltynewicz when blood clots were discovered in his throwing shoulder. He had surgery to remove part of a rib under the shoulder and was still recovering when spring training began in 2016.

Foltynewicz finished 2016 on a positive note and followed it up with a healthy and effective spring. But the Braves are still waiting for him to tap his potential.

“He’s still a maturing, growing pitcher,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think the more confidence he gets and belief in himself, the better he’s going to be. Because we all know he’s got the weapons. He just needs to put it all together and do it.”

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