ATLANTA -- After spending much of last summer enduring some inevitable growing pains, Mike Foltynewicz was looking forward to the chance to end his rookie season in promising fashion. Instead, the Braves' right-hander endured a sedentary September that became downright frightening when he was diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood clot, which likely will limit him through the early portion of the upcoming season.
"It was a life-threatening injury, it really was," Foltynewicz said. "So it was kind of scary to go through. But we got it taken care of and I've just put it behind me."
A visibly thinner Foltynewicz seemed to be feeling good both physically and emotionally after he played long toss on Monday morning at Turner Field. The 24-year-old hurler will come to Spring Training a couple weeks behind with his throwing program, and he consequently could begin the regular season on the disabled list.
This is not something Foltynewicz is willing to concede at the beginning of February. But given all that he has endured since the blood clot forced doctors to remove a rib behind his throwing shoulder in September, he appreciates that he has this opportunity to patiently regain both his strength and promising form.
"Luckily, they found [the blood clot] because I could have had a stroke on the airplane when we went to the next series," Foltynewicz said.
Though Foltynewicz began feeling sick while the Braves were in San Diego on Aug. 18, he didn't show any signs of physical fatigue as he displayed a live arm while pitching in front of friends in family members during his first career Wrigley Field start on Aug. 20. He was diagnosed with pneumonia two weeks later, but doctors have since told him that what was initially seen on an X-ray as pneumonia might have actually been a blood clot.
When Foltynewicz arrived at Turner Field on Sept. 18 with his right arm nearly double the size of his left arm, he was rushed to a nearby hospital where he underwent the surgery to remove a rib.
Many swimmers and some other Major League pitchers have encountered success after undergoing a similar procedure. Rays right-hander Alex Cobb has posted a 3.19 ERA over the 72 starts he has completed since having a portion of his rib removed during his 2011 rookie season.
"They say [the blood clot] is just something that can happen with athletes," Foltynewicz said. "You build your shoulder muscles up so much and then when you start throwing, it's not a natural motion. So it just crushes all your arteries and veins. It's something you've got to deal with. It's an injury. You deal with it, get it taken care of and get back on the field as soon as you can."
Foltynewicz remains approximately 15 pounds lighter than he was when he pitched with a 226-pound frame most of last year. His level of activity has been limited as he has spent the past four months on blood thinners.
The Braves medical staff cleared Foltynewicz to begin the earliest stage of his throwing program on Dec. 25. Thus on Christmas Day, the hard-throwing pitcher appreciated the chance to exchange what he termed some "rainbow tosses" with his father.
Foltynewicz's patience will be further tested as he spends at least a couple more weeks limited to throwing activities away from a mound. But as left-hander Mike Minor learned just two years ago, it is never wise to expedite preparations leading into Spring Training.
When Foltynewicz regains his strength, he'll once again be subjected to hear critics and fans debate whether he would be best served as a starter or a late-inning reliever. But for now, he is just happy to still have a chance to pitch.
"All my hard work was thrown out the door," Foltynewicz said with a chuckle. "But we'll get it back. It's going to be a good season."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.