Staff woes force Braves to hasten Folty's return

Staff woes force Braves to hasten Folty's return

ATLANTA -- The Braves had planned for Mike Foltynewicz to make two Minor League rehab starts. But because they have three starting pitchers on the disabled list and another back at the Triple-A level to gain more seasoning, they essentially have no choice but to bring Foltynewicz back to start Thursday night's series opener against the Marlins.

Foltynewicz will be making his first start since an MRI exam completed on June 1 showed a bone spur in his right elbow. Instead of risking the possibility of incurring a significant injury while altering his mechanics to minimize the elbow discomfort, the 24-year-old right-hander opted to go on the disabled list. He completed five pain-free and scoreless innings while limiting Charlotte to one hit in his first rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday night.

The Braves officially announced Foltynewicz as Thursday's starter after Wednesday night's 3-0 loss against the Indians. The plan to give him an additional rehab start essentially disappeared on Monday night, when John Gant strained a left oblique muscle and landed on the disabled list. Two days earlier, Aaron Blair had been optioned back to Gwinnett.

The Major League-ready starting-pitching depth within Atlanta's system began to evaporate over the past month. Lucas Sims' struggles with Gwinnett led to him being sent back to Double-A Mississippi. Tyrell Jenkins was transitioned to a bullpen role at the end of May and ended up completing four innings of relief after Gant exited on Monday. Manny Banuelos has further complicated matters as he has struggled with Gwinnett and raised more concerns about the long-term durability of his left elbow.

Thus, when it came time to fill Blair's spot in the rotation on a temporary basis on Wednesday night against the Indians, the Braves had to turn to Joel De La Cruz, a 27-year-old Minor League journeyman who had never previously pitched at the Major League level.

The Braves would have needed to fill Gant's rotation spot by Saturday. Instead of waiting until then, they have opted to pitch Foltynewicz on regular rest on Thursday and give both Julio Teheran and Bud Norris an extra day of rest leading into their respective starts on Friday and Saturday.

Foltynewicz posted a 3.51 ERA in the six starts he made before being placed on the disabled list. The hard-throwing right-hander completed eight scoreless innings against the Royals on May 14 and then surrendered two runs while totaling 11 2/3 innings over his two most recent starts, which came against the Brewers and Giants. He has produced more consistency with his slider and curveball than he did during last year's inconsistent rookie season.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.