Mike Foltynewicz turned in one of the best performances of his career in Friday’s Game 2 victory for the Atlanta Braves. Foltynewicz allowed just three hits and struck out seven over seven scoreless innings, exhibiting complete control. He became just the third Atlanta Braves pitcher to log seven scoreless innings without a walk in a postseason start, joining Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
The big take away from Foltynewicz’ performance was his slider and how much he relied on it. Of the 81 pitches that he threw, 36 of them were classified as sliders (44.4 percent) by Baseball Savant. He threw his slider 28.5 percent of the time during the regular season with opponents hitting just .242 with an xBA of .225 (.320 wOBA, .288 xwOBA) and a whiff rate of 33.9 percent. Here is a breakdown of the 81 pitches that Foltynewicz threw in Game 2.
The Cardinals have struggled against breaking stuff all the year, being a bottom-10 offensive team in any permutation of wOBA, xwOBA, sliders, breaking pitches, and sliders/or breaking pitches from right-handers. The Braves and Foltynewicz seemed to recognize that, driving the pitch selection on Friday night.
1st Inning - Braves 0, Cardinals 0
Dexter Fowler was up first and Foltynewicz made quick work of him. He began the at-bat with a 93 mph fastball on the black of the outside corner. He then finished him off with a pair of sliders on the inner half.
The last slider got the Pitching Ninja treatment on Twitter and you can see Fowler flinch as the pitch settles into McCann’s glove for the first out of the inning.
Folty, Filthy 84mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/o5HXSYe1EK— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 4, 2019
Tommy Edman would come to he plate next. Foltynewicz again began the at bat with a four-seamer that was just low. Edman then swung through a pair of sliders to run the count to 1-2. Foltynewicz got away with a mistake pitch as Edman turned around a four-seamer that was up and out over the middle of the plate but lined out to Matt Joyce in right.
Two out and no runners on is exactly the way you want to face Paul Goldschmidt. Foltynewicz began his third straight at-bat with a four-seamer that Goldschmidt fouled away. He followed with a two-seamer on the inner half for another foul ball to make the count 0-2. Goldschmidt then laid off a slider away and fouled another that was on the inner half. A curve ball in backed him off the plate to even the count. Foltynewicz then went back to the slider that Goldschmidt swung through to end the inning, even though the pitch was up.
As you can see in the video below, that final slider was up and out over the plate but Goldschmidt was out in front and swung through the pitch.
Folty, Nasty 85mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/ayHAOVEFED— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 4, 2019
A nice 13 pitch inning got Foltynewicz and the Braves off to a good start. Josh Donaldson would give Foltynewicz the lead with a run scoring single in the bottom of the inning.
2nd Inning - Braves 1, Cardinals 0
After starting all three batters in the first with a four-seamer, Folty changed things up and went back to the slider to begin the second inning against Marcell Ozuna. He missed away with a two-seamer to even the count and then got Ozuna to ground to Donaldson with a slider that was down and away for the first out.
That would bring Yadier Molina to the plate who jumped on an elevated first-pitch slider and served it into left for the first hit of the game for the Cardinals.
With a runner at first, Foltynewicz pitched out of the stretch for the first time in the game against Kolten Wong. He began the sequence with his first changeup of the game for a swinging strike. Wong then fouled off a slider that was down and in and then swung through a slider that was up and in the middle of the plate for the second out.
Once again this pitch is up and out over the plate but has enough movement that Wong swings right through it for the strikeout.
Folty, 85mph Slider Release (slow) pic.twitter.com/1okoXTvSr9— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 4, 2019
Folty went back to the fastball to begin the at-bat against Paul DeJong. DeJong fouled away a two-seamer that was down and in and then took another that was just off the outside of the plate to make the count 1-1. He then got wood on a slider away and grounded it to Ozzie Albies who had it kick off the heel of his glove for an error.
In the past, we have seen an error derail Foltynewicz, but not this time. Harrison Bader would come to the plate with two on and two out and see five straight breaking balls from Foltynewicz. Bader has had a well-known problem with slow and breaking stuff this year, so he was exactly the right man to come up when the Braves needed a third out to escape a jam. He took a slider for strike one. Foltynewicz then missed with a curveball up and in to even the count. Then three straight sliders, the last two nowhere near the plate, finished off Bader and the Cardinals in the second.
St. Louis got a hit and an error in the inning but couldn’t get a runner past second base. Foltynewicz needed just 15 pitches to get through the inning despite the baserunners and had thrown just 28 pitches total over his first two innings.
3rd Inning - Braves 1, Cardinals 0
The third inning would begin with pitcher Jack Flaherty batting for the first time. Foltynewicz started the at-bat with a four-seamer for a called strike and then finished Flaherty off with three straight sliders for the strikeout. Flaherty would have been better off just standing there, but that’s not what he chose to do.
Second time through the order began with Fowler strolling to the plate. After falling behind in his first plate appearance, Fowler swung at the first pitch and grounded a two-seamer to Albies for the second out.
That brought Tommy Edman to the plate. Edman took another two-seamer on the inner half for strike one. He then fouled off a pair of sliders before grounding a curveball to Freddie Freeman at first to end the inning. All three breaking pitches he swung at were outside the zone — Foltynewicz was getting the optimal result of having hitters watch his strikes and swing at his balls.
A crisp nine-pitch inning for Foltynewicz, who had only thrown 37 total to this point.
4th Inning - Braves 1, Cardinals 0
Goldschmidt led off the fourth. Foltynewicz retired him with an elevated slider in the first inning, but went a different route this time around. He began the at-bat with a pair of two-seamers that missed away. He then caught the outside corner with four-seamer to make the count 2-1. A curveball missed in to run the count to 3-1. Foltynewicz then went back to the four-seamer away and Goldschmidt grounded it to Dansby Swanson for the first out of the inning. This was the first multi-pitch sequence in the game where Foltynewicz didn’t throw at least one slider, perhaps knowing that he wasn’t going to get too many up in the zone past Goldschmidt.
Foltynewicz went back to the slider to start the at-bat against Ozuna, missing away. He then evened the count with a two-seamer away. Ozuna got another two-seamer in and lined it to center for a soft single. That wasn’t a great pitch by Foltynewicz, but Ozuna didn’t put a good swing on it and the single ended up being harmless.
Back to the stretch for Foltynewicz against Molina. A two-seamer caught the corner low and away for strike one. Molina then lifted a curve away to Matt Joyce in right for the second out.
That brought Wong to the plate with a runner at first and two outs. Foltynewicz missed with a slider in the dirt and then came back with a changeup on the inner half for strike one. Wong missed a slider to run the count to 1-2. If you recall, he also missed a slider to end his first plate appearance. Foltynewicz then went for the back foot slider that missed in the dirt to make it 2-2. Wong then got another slider low and in that he drove out to Joyce in right who made the catch just shy of the wall to end the inning.
Wong’s drive had an exit velocity of 93.5 mph and I thought it was gone while watching live. Another crisp 15-pitch inning for Foltynewicz who was now at 52 pitches through four innings of work.
5th Inning - Braves 1, Cardinals 0
DeJong came up to start the fifth and took a two-seamer in the middle of the plate for strike one. He then swung over a curve to make it 0-2. Foltynewicz then missed with a slider low and away and a four-seamer up to even the count at 2-2. He then came right back with the slider away for the swinging strikeout.
Bader would continue to see a steady diet of breaking balls in his second at-bat. He watched a slider for strike one, fouled away a curve, and then swung through a slider away for the strikeout. Through two at-bats Bader saw two curveballs and six sliders from Foltynewicz. The Braves don’t have much incentive to throw him anything else.
That brought Flaherty to the plate with two outs. Foltynewicz missed with slider in but came back with a two-seamer for strike one. He missed with a curve away and then went back with a fastball up that Flaherty lined to Joyce in right for the third out. At least he had more reason to swing this time.
A 12-pitch fifth inning for Foltynewicz, putting him at 64 after five.
6th Inning - Braves 1, Cardinals 0
Third time through the order for Foltynewicz began in the sixth. He started Fowler with a two-seamer up that appeared to clip the strike zone but was called a ball. Another two-seamer down and in was a called strike to even the count at 1-1. Foltynewicz then missed with a slider away before coming back with a curveball left up that Fowler, who’s also struggled with breaking pitches this year, skied to Ronald Acuña Jr. for the out.
Foltynewicz started Edman with a changeup in his third at-bat, which was something he hadn’t seen in either of his first two plate appearances. He followed with a curveball in that Edman tapped back to the mound for the second out. Two curveballs left up, and two bits of weak contact to show for it.
Foltynewicz struck out Goldschmidt with a slider in the first and then gave him a steady diet of fastballs in his second. He started him off with a curveball in his third at-bat. Goldschmidt lifted it to Markakis in left to end the inning. It was hit reasonably well, as you’d expect from Goldschmidt against a curveball in the zone, but didn’t quite have the distance (99 mph exit velocity, 346 feet) to tie the game.
A seven-pitch inning put Foltynewicz at 71 through six innings.
7th Inning - Braves 1, Cardinals 0
Ozuna led off the seventh for the Cardinals. Foltynewicz got ahead in the count with a high strike call on a two-seamer. Ozuna then laid off a slider down before getting another two-seamer in the middle of the plate that he lined to Acuña for the first out.
Foltynewicz started Molina off with a curveball away that he swung through for strike one. He then fouled off a slider that was nearly in the same spot. A third slider was just off the plate low and away that Molina was able to get enough wood on to line a single to right. It happens.
Foltynewicz returned to the stretch against Wong and jumped ahead in the at-bat thanks to a generous call on a (very) high changeup for strike one. He then missed with a curveball in the dirt to even the count. Wong laid off another changeup down to make it 2-1. Foltynewicz then followed with a two-seamer that stayed out over the plate that Wong grounded to Albies at second for a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Wong’s ball left the bat at 105.4 mph, which was the hardest hit ball off of Foltynewicz in the game. But, it was the one that gave him two outs, and had the Cardinals blow their latest rally. Adam Duvall would pinch hit for Foltynewicz in the bottom half of the inning and Max Fried and Mark Melancon would hold the Cardinals down over the final two innings.
A lot of Foltynewicz’ struggles early in the season were tied to the struggles with his slider. Since returning from Gwinnett he has seen notable improvement in the pitch. As you can see above, several of those sliders were up and in the middle of the plate but the pitch was deceptive enough to keep St. Louis off balance. Check out the tunneling action in the video below. The fastball and slider are nearly identical as they reach the plate and batters have a really tough time adjusting.
Folty, 94mph Two Seamer and 84mph Slider, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/7JlOokgaB9— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 4, 2019
This was a gem of a game for Foltynewicz and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Braves after a disappointing loss in Game 1.