McAuley: Q & A with Braves All-Star Mike Foltynewicz

ATLANTA — For the first time in four years, the Atlanta Braves are well-represented in the All-Star Game. Not only are they sending four representatives to Washington D.C. for the Midsummer classic, but they boast two starters and the league’s leading vote-getter. That’s quite a turnaround for a club coming off three consecutive 90-loss campaigns.

It seems the Braves have gone from rebuilding to recharging for what they hope will be a lengthy stay in the playoff hunt.

Central to that success is the evolution of hard-throwing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz. He turned his sometimes mercurial manner into a more confident mound presence this season. Armed with a high-90s fastball and increasingly deadly slider, Foltynewicz tapped into his substantial physical talents to begin producing tangible results every fifth day this season.

Foltynewicz was named to his first All-Star team and took some time to chat with me about that and more.

Grant McAuley: It’s been quite a season for you thus far. As we reach the midway point, you got some good news. You were named a National League All-Star for the first time in your career. I’d imagine this is a pretty gratifying thing, a pretty exciting thing. How’d it feel?

Mike Foltynewicz: “It’s very, very exciting. I kind of got more nervous than anything just knowing how cool it is to be named an All-Star. Going there and doing all the festivities and all that, I’m just nervous to go there and meet all the guys and have fun this week. It’s definitely an honor. It’s not your goal at the beginning of the year to be an All-Star; it’s just being consistent and trying to get wins for your team. If it all falls in your lap to be an All-Star, then it means you’re doing your job. I’m just very humbled being part of the Braves’ All-Stars, knowing their great history of All-Stars. It’s just humbling and I’m still speechless about it. I’m just ready to go there, get it all over with and rejoin the team again and get back on this streak we’ve been on.”

GM: A little bit of a teammate kind of feel to this experience for you, because you’re not going alone. You get to go with three of your teammates. I think that goes with what you’re talking about with going out there every day trying to win baseball games. Not surprising to see Freddie Freeman in the mix for something like this, but three first timers, yourself, Ozzie Albies and Nick Markakis. That’s a pretty special group in general…

MF: “Yeah, I’ve been telling the other guys I’m not striking out everybody. This is definitely a team gig for myself to get in the All-Star game. These guys are making plays and helping me out offensively. With Kakes, Freddie and Ozzie, that’s the main core that are All-Stars and have been carrying us this whole way through the first half. Especially Freddie and Kakes, the way they’ve been bashing the ball. Ozzie’s getting on and hitting home runs, too. Those guys all deserve it. They’ve been leading us for the first half and I’m glad they’re on my side. I’m just glad I can go out there every fifth day and help them win a ballgame. But it’s fun as all hell to watch them those four days in between.”

GM: You mentioned it’s not necessarily the goal to make an All-Star team, but the goal is to go out and win. As you reflected last winter, you had a really good run going in the first half and then some struggles the last couple of months of the season. I’m sure you wanted to right the ship before you had to go home, but you had a little time to think about it between then and spring training. What’s changed in your game or evolved in your game since say, last September to the time you took the ball in April?

MF: “I think just slowing things down. I think in the past I’d just get too fast up on the mound, even when I get in trouble and I’m worried about other things than getting guys out at the plate. I think this year I’m really focused on pitch-by-pitch and throwing every pitch with execution. I’m focused on where is this pitch going to go instead of just trying to throw as hard as I can and just hoping for the best. Now my command and control of my fastball have gotten a lot better and I think just slowing things down I’ve seen a couple of jams I’ve been in this year and been able to get out of them and put the team in a good situation to win. The last few starts haven’t been the way I wanted, but more than not I’ve been pretty consistent in bearing down and getting guys out. Stopping the bleeding as I liked to say last year, I’ve done that a lot this year. I’m really happy with that. I’ve changed my windup a little bit and not going back as much and trying to keep my head on the same plane as the catcher and driving through. I think that’s a good thing we’re doing, just staying in the stretch like a lot of the pitchers are going to this year. It’s making me stay towards Flow (Tyler Flowers) or Kurt (Suzuki) and driving right through rather that flaring off. You may have seen in the past that I’d get a little wild on the first base side. So, it’s helping me a lot with my off-speed as well. It’s giving me the confidence to throw them whenever I need to, behind in the count or ahead in the count.”

GM: Command, control, pace, mechanics, all of those things are certainly big components in being a successful pitcher no matter what your role is. How about the preparation? Walk me through what it is that you do in between starts and then of course day of as you get ready to face an opposing lineup.

MF: “Day of, we just see who is in the lineup that day and I get with Flow and Chuck (Hernandez) and go over to get a good game plan going, see how we’re going to attack them. I’ll get stretched out an hour or two before the game and then just kind of relax and get mentally prepared. I try not to get too hyped or get too low, just try to find that medium to go out there and try to compete. It’s five years to get that routine down and all that, but when you find it, it’s a good time. Day after I just take a break, do a little light toss. Day 2 I’m a bullpen guy, so if I need to work on something, we try to figure it out whatever needs to be. Then third and fourth day are just kind of getting ready for your start again. Last year was a good test for me, the first full year to kind of figure out over 162 games. You know, it’s a lot of starts. It’s a big grind with little injuries and a little soreness here and there and you just kind of have to grind through. Knowing what it takes now, it’s fun to go out there just knowing what to do to prepare for 162.”

GM: Your success and your All-Star resume are all part of a bigger thing here, because this team has really I think surprised and opened a lot of eyes this year. Maybe it’s a year ahead of schedule, but what has the general feeling been like for the 25 guys in this clubhouse as April turned to May, then May to June and you guys find yourself at the top of the standings?

MF: “Yeah, it’s fun and relaxed at the same time. Over the years, Freddie, myself and a couple other guys going through that rebuilding stage and like you said, may have been a year away, but we just started off hot as can be and we haven’t looked back. We knew how good we could be. When we started Spring Training, that was our goal. I mean, if it wasn’t, why are we sitting here today? It’s to get to the playoffs and get to the World Series. We believed it right when we had that first meeting, especially with the veteran guys that we have and the mix of younger dudes that were going to come up. They showed up ready to play and they’re fun as all hell to watch. That’s why we’re so good today. The veterans mixed with the young guys are all coming together. We’re all having a lot of fun. We kind of felt it at the end of last year and especially when we got Snit and we started winning and we just had fun. We carried that into this year and what we can do. We got the pieces in the offseason, a couple of dudes mixed in here and now we’re just having a ball. The first half might have been unexpected for most, but we’re just happy we’re playing like we know we could and like we’re capable of coming out of spring.”

GM: We’ll close it down on the All-Star Game, Brian Snitker said you’re all gassed up and ready to go for the National League squad. What do you expect from this trip to Washington as you mingle with the best in baseball?

MF: “Oh, man, I don’t know. I’m more nervous than anything just to go out there and meet all the guys and hang out with them. But yeah, that’d be something else to get in the game. I just don’t want to go out there and starting walking people. Hopefully, it’s just like the NBA All-Star game. They’re out there swinging and we’re out there just having a fun game like you’re in the back yard. It’s going to be something else, just the nerves kind of like your debut. I can remember that. I went out to go throw my warmup pitches and I think I threw the first one 48 feet and straight into the ground. Hopefully this won’t go worse. But yeah, I’m just excited and words can’t describe what’s going to happen or how I’m feeling. I’m ready to get there and just have fun, hang out with my family and friends and then get back to what we started here in the first half.”

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