Mike Foltynewicz's fastball lit up the Norfolk radar gun at 99 mph in the eighth inning Monday night as the right-hander eclipsed the 100-pitch mark.
"I don't really try to look at the radar gun," the Braves' No. 3 prospect said. "It just messes you up."
But Foltynewicz, despite early nerves and a new pitch, was hard to decode in his third start of the season. He held Triple-A Norfolk to a run on three hits and a walk while striking out nine over eight innings in Gwinnett's 1-0 loss.
The hard-throwing starter known for his fastball was acquired by the Braves in January and has been as advertised so far -- he's allowed three runs over 16 2/3 innings. But he hasn't received any run support from his new club yet.
Earning a win wasn't the only goal for the 23-year-old, though. He debuted a new pitch -- a hard slider -- and in the process tallied a season high in strikeouts. The learning curve might have cost him as he felt out his improved secondary offering early and gave up a run on a bloop single.
"After my last outing, [the Braves] wanted me to throw a hard slider, somewhere in the 85, 86, 87 range," Foltynewicz said. "My whole life, I could never get it over 81 or 82. But they said, 'As hard as you throw, you should have a power slider.'"
Foltynewicz (0-2) threw 105 pitches, 72 for strikes. He's allowed one run in each of his three outings and sports a 1.62 ERA. Gwinnett (3-8) has dropped six straight.
"This was probably my best outing, this and the last outing were the best I've felt the whole year," he said. "But it's early. I just threw a lot of strikes. The second inning, I started doing too much. I've been working on a new slider, and that wasn't really going for strikes, but other than that, the change was working, and later on, the slider started to work for me well. Fastball command was the big thing for me."
The first-round pick by the Astros in 2010 bounced back from one shaky inning in the second, when he walked Christian Walker -- his only free pass of the game -- and allowed singles to Steve Clevenger and Michael Almanzar that led to the game's lone run. The righty allowed just one more hit the rest of the night en route to his longest outing since July 24, 2013 with Double-A Corpus Christi.
"There were a lot of fly balls tonight, the wind was strong, so my defense did a great job," he said. "I kind of got stronger as the game went one. If felt pretty good."
Mike Foltynewicz has 21 strikeouts and a 1.62 ERA in three starts for Triple-A Gwinnett. (Tayor Botta/G-Braves)
Foltynewicz struck out two in the sixth, seventh and eighth as he got a better feel for his slider. Facing Triple-A batters while testing out a new pitch probably isn't ideal, but Foltynewicz said he was pleased with the progress he made.
"A couple stayed up in the zone and they popped up, but it's coming along all right," he said. "It's been my focus for the last four days, working on that in the bullpen. A couple of them broke off that were nice, but I need that consistency, that will really help me come along."
So how do you take an 81-mph slider and turn it into an 87-mph slider? It's like throwing an egg, Foltynewicz said.
"I really choke all my pitches, I grab the ball as hard as I can," he said. "But with the slider, they said they want me to hold it like an egg. Turn the knob at the end, throw it like it's a fastball and give it a little turn. I'm trying to make it happen, I was trying to get the spin on it, and it was popping up a little bit, but I'll keep working on that. I'm getting good at it, it's just work ethic with that pitch."
With his old slider, Foltynewicz went 7-7 with a 5.08 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 102 2/3 innings at Triple-A last season while appearing in 16 games out of the bullpen for Houston. In the Majors, the righty struck out 14 batters in 18 2/3 innings, allowing 11 runs and three homers in the process. The Astros packaged him in a deal to Atlanta on Jan. 14, a move Foltynewicz called "shocking" when it happened.
Now Foltynewicz is adjusting to a new organization and strategy. He said he was a little surprised that Gwinnett let him go past 80 pitches and into the eighth.
"I felt really good in the eighth, I don't know what happened, but I looked at the scoreboard and thought, 'Hmm, this is going pretty good,'" he said. "I was just challenging the hitters, I let them hit it. This a big park, so I just let the defense do the work. I was surprised how good I felt, I haven't thrown over 80 pitches since Spring Training. I came in for the seventh and I said, 'Let me go back out there.' My body felt good."