Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Glavine likes what he sees from Wisler, Folty


In this most difficult of Braves seasons, being able to feel not just hopeful but optimistic about the future is essential not just for frustrated fans, but for many who work for or are otherwise closely associated with the team.

Iconic former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, a Hall of Famer who serves as a part-time broadcaster for the team, looks at Atlanta’s current starting rotation and sees at least a couple of young pitchers – Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz -- he believes have the goods and are making strides to become impact performers.

Glavine was in the booth for Foltynewicz’s impressive start Saturday night and for All-Star Julio Teheran's start Sunday.

The two-time former Cy Young Award winner and 305-game winner was asked Sunday morning specifically about Wisler, who’ll face a challenge Monday in his first start at the Cincinnati ballpark that’s the most hitter-friendly venue in the majors.

“I like him,” Glavine said of Wisler. “Between he and Foltynewicz, there’s a couple of good guys to certainly fill out and build around – obviously depending on Julio, what happens with him – but I like Matt’s desire to learn, get better, try to figure some things out. I think sometimes he’s got to pull the reins back a little bit, in terms of what he’s trying to digest, and just kind of let things happen a little bit.

“But as far as his foundation of pitches and his makeup, I think he’s got a chance to be pretty good.”

Ten minutes before Glavine walked through the clubhouse, a reporter’s discussion with Wisler revealed a little bit of what Glavine referenced. Wisler is a cerebral sort who sometimes thinks a bit too much and tries to put everything he’s learned into his performance all at once. He can over-think things a bit, at times.

Asked about the change-up that he worked on with Glavine during the winter and some in spring training, Wisler said, “I haven’t been throwing it much of late. I don’t think I’ve thrown it my last two games. I’ve got to start to incorporate it more. I think this (Reds) lineup has some lefties that I’ll be able to work it into. Obviously I need to start just throwing it and trusting it more….

“The last two lineups I faced had a lot of right-handers, so obviously fastball-slider to them; I don’t normally thrown too many change-ups regardless to (right-handers). And then the lefties, I was talking to Flow (catcher Tyler Flowers) about it before the game, and the one key is with a lot of switch-hitters, they hit the change-up  a lot better. Haven’t really faced too many true lefties. A lot of times, like (Adam) Eaton and those guys were swinging at the first pitch, so I’m not getting ahead of them where I can throw it. Get in more situations where I can throw it, the better it’ll be.”

Eaton of the White Sox homered off Wisler July 8 in the pitcher’s last start before the All-Star break, when Wisler gave up eight hits, six runs and two homers in five innings at Chicago, his second-worst start of the season.

After posting an impressive 2.95 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in a span of 10 starts through May 31, with 16 walks and five homers allowed in 61 2/3 innings, Wisler struggled with a 6.81 ERA and .333 opponents’ average in his last seven starts before the All-Star break, with 13 walks and nine homers allowed in 38 1/3 innings.

“That’s typical,” Glavine said. “Look, I went through that. I look back at my career, not only did I go through it within seasons, I went through it for (entire) seasons. It was bad, good, bad … and then things kind of finally settled into place. But I think that’s the nature of young guys, is you kind of have those roller coasters. Part of it is, when they’re in the down side of it, they get a little bit too down. And they start focusing on maybe going out there and trying not to lose versus going out there to win.

“But I think, too, it’s harder for them – and I know it was the case with me – it’s harder to get on that roll where you’re going out there four out of five starts and really pitching quality, because they don’t know how to do it when they don’t have their good stuff. And that, to me, again was what the breakthrough was for me in ’91, when I started to realize that, hey, I can win when I don’t have my ‘A’ stuff. And I think these guys understand what that’s about, but I don’t think they understand how to do it.”

One thing that Glavine particularly likes about Wisler, 23, is how the youngster sought him out this winter and asked him to help him work on his change-up, after Wisler’s parents heard Glavine say on-air during one of their son’s starts that Wisler could benefit from the pitch that the regal left-hander used so masterfully during his own career. They met at a Starbucks, discussed pitching, then had a few one-on-one sessions at Turner Field during the winter.

“When he called me and wanted to talk about his change-up and whatever, that’s certainly, I think, a pitch for him long-term that he’s going to have to use,” Glavine said. “Does he need it at the moment to be successful? Probably not. But again, I think that’s part of the process of knowing he’s got to get to the next step. To me, it’s a good sign that he’s smart enough to recognize why he hasn’t used it. But OK, well now what do you to do combat that and get it to the point where you can start to use it. And if you see guys ambushing you early in the count, well, throw it early in the count.

“But again, I think long term that’s going to be an important pitch for him, but I think sometimes they get in that mode where they think, I know this is going to be good for me long term, so I want it right now. And physically, mentally, he may not be ready for it right now. And they kind of get caught trying to push that envelope a little bit.

“But I like him. Like I said, to me, for young guys who are willing to reach out and ask questions, to me that says a lot about guys. Because a lot of guys, they see me, they see (John) Smoltz, they see Chipper (Jones), they don’t approach us. They’re afraid. He’s not.”

Foltynewicz, 24, is another former top prospect who’s gone through hot and cold stretches, and dealt with health issues including a serious situation late in the 2015 season when he developed blood clots in his pitching arm and had to have season-ending surgery to remove part of a rib to relieve pressure in the area.

After spending a month on the disabled list this season for bone spurs in his pitching elbow, Foltynewicz returned and picked up where he left off before the DL stint, when he had just begun to put together some consistent starts that showcased his powerful arm and improved command of all his pitches.

After recording 10 strikeouts with no walks in seven scoreless innings against the White Sox on July 10, Foltynewicz took a two-hit shutout to the eighth inning Saturday against the Rockies before things unraveled for the Braves and he ended up being charged with three runs including two after he left the game.

The big right-hander has a 3.15 ERA, .215 opponents’ average and 33 strikeouts with 11 walks in 34 1/3 innings over his past six starts, one shortened by rain delay.

“When you see a guy throwing that hard, scuffling a little bit, giving up home runs and doing that kind of stuff, you’re like, well….” Glavine said, acknowledging the frustration some had watching Foltynewicz struggle. “But I think he’s kind of figured out at least how to -- I heard him say (Saturday) night -- try to get away from trying to hit corners and start trying to hit halves (of the plate) and be more aggressive with the fastball in the zone.

“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 in at a fairly decent rate in terms of throwing it for strikes? Whew.”

Foltynewicz is showing precisely why the Braves kept him in a starting role even when he struggled mightily at times the past couple of seasons, rather than moving him to the bullpen where he wouldn’t have to worry about pacing himself or mixing pitches.

“For sure," Glavine said. "Obviously you look at him and think, he could be a great closer. You would think. I don’t know the makeup, I don’t know him well enough, but you would think (closer 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. But like you said, 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 and not so, trying to hit that black and that corner. It’s quite a progression, it’s good to see it from him.”

Another young Braves pitcher, Tyrell Jenkins, makes  his second start Tuesday.

• Reliever Shae Simmons is (again) nearing possible return from long rehab.

• R.E.M. released "Life's Rich Pageant," one of the finest albums in their extensive catalog, in 1986, and this past week marked the 30th anniversary of the release of a single from that album, the magnificent "Fall On Me." Here's a live version. Hopefully the lyrics are correct, but we were never quite sure of most of their lyrics, nor did it matter. They ruled my world.

"FALL ON ME" by R.E.M.

Bargain buildings, weights and pulleys

Feathers hit the ground

Before the weight can leave the air Buy the sky and sell the sky

And tell the sky, and tell the sky

Fall on me (what is it up in the air for)

Fall on me (if it's there for long)

Fall on me (it's over, it's over me) There's the progress

We have found a way to talk around the problem

Building towers

Foresight isn't anything at all Buy the sky and sell the sky

And bleed the sky and tell the sky

Fall on me (what is it up in the air for)

Fall on me (if it's there for long)

Fall on me (it's over, it's over me)

Fall on me

(Well I would keep it above but then it wouldn't be sky any more)

(So if I send it to you you've got to promise to keep it home)

Buy the sky and sell the sky

And lift your arms up to the sky

And ask the sky, and ask the sky

Fall on me (what is it up in the air for)

Fall on me (if it's there for long)

Fall on me (it's over, it's over me)

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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.