LAKELAND, Fla. -- Even as Mike Foltynewicz has showed his youth through the inconsistency he has displayed over the past month, the Braves have provided every indication that they would like him to begin the upcoming season in Atlanta's rotation.
Foltynewicz passed his most important test thus far, as he displayed better composure during Monday's start against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. But his rotation candidacy is influenced by the decisions the Braves have to soon make regarding their two veteran candidates -- Wandy Rodriguez and Eric Stults.
After watching Foltynewicz allow a pair of runs over 3 2/3 innings during Monday's 4-2 win, the Braves saw Stults finish the game by limiting the Tigers to one hit over five scoreless innings. Now the pressure is on Rodriguez to keep pace in this competition when he completes his final audition with Tuesday night's start against the Astros.
"I think competition will make this team and guys better," Stults said. "So, whatever [the Braves] decide to do, I feel I gave myself a chance to make this team."
If Rodriguez and Stults are not guaranteed spots on the Opening Day roster by Wednesday, they can opt out of their Minor League contracts and become free agents. Both would gain a $2 million salary if placed on the roster.
Though Rodriguez has pitched effectively while producing a 2.50 ERA through his first five starts, he stands as a health-risk given that injuries have limited him to total just 18 starts over the past two years. The Braves have continued to monitor the option to trade the 36-year-old southpaw.
At the same time, the Braves have not ruled out the possibility to use one of the rotation candidates to fill one of their multiple bullpen voids. Stults, who has produced a 1.89 ERA through five appearances this year, stands as the safest bet among the top three rotation candidates. He said he is willing to begin the season either in the rotation or in the bullpen.
"I feel good with the way the spring has gone so far," Stults said. "We still have a little ways to go, but hopefully I'm making the decision tough."
Foltynewicz kept himself in the mix for one of the rotation spots as he displayed better command and presence during Monday's outing. The 23-year-old top pitching prospect surrendered a pair of singles to the first two batters he faced and then ended the first inning by retiring Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. After Cabrera bounced a double over the left-center-field wall in the third inning, the Braves' right-hander stranded a pair of runners by getting Martinez to hit a lazy fly ball to left field.
One inning later, Foltynewicz responded to Yoenis Cespedes' opposite-field homer by ending his 70-pitch outing by striking out Alex Avila. These responses were more encouraging than the way he responded against the Phillies last week, when he followed a two-out walk to the pitcher with another walk and later surrendered home runs on consecutive pitches to Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf.
"Probably in the past, I would have gotten a little upset and just tried to throw as hard as I can," Foltynewicz said. "That's when I start walking people and getting a little wild and leaving pitches over the plate."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.