NORTH PORT, Fla. — Mike Foltynewicz was asked how long it took him to get over his nightmarish start in Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals last fall.
"Two or three days," the Atlanta Braves pitcher said.
The 28-year-old right-hander, an All-Star two years ago, said he quickly turned his attention to wife Brittany, son Mike and daughter Lola. They not only supported Foltynewicz during his lowest points last year, they visited when the Braves sent him down to the minors for several weeks last summer.
"They're my biggest support system," he said. "They calmed me down and relaxed me. You have to get over the social media — that can be pretty hard — and put that stuff away and be a dad and husband."
The forgettable Game 5 — Foltynewicz left with a 4-0 deficit in the first inning that turned into 10-0, then a 13-1 loss — capped a roller-coaster season.
He missed most of spring training and the start of the regular season last year because of an arm injury that led to a bone spur in his right elbow.
After going 13-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 2018 and finishing eighth in voting for the NL Cy Young Award, Foltynewicz was 0-3 with an 8.02 ERA after his first four starts for Atlanta last year. At 2-5 with a 6.22 ERA on June 22, Foltynewicz was optioned to the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers and spent six weeks with them.
When he returned to the majors, Foltynewicz won six straight starts, finished the regular season with an 8-6 record and lowered his ERA to 4.54.
The resurgence continued in the postseason when the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Foltynewicz threw seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals in a 3-0 win in Game 2. He struck out seven batters, walked none and had four 1-2-3 innings.
Then came Game 5 in Atlanta, with the Braves trying to advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
"It was a long season for sure," he said. "Great playoff game, bad playoff game. The season really had its up and downs. Midseason, things went really south. I had to step up physically and mentally."
While he said teammates, coaches and management continued to encourage him, Foltynewicz said his family visiting him during the Stripers' road trips in North Carolina lifted his spirits.
"All this stuff is stressful and creates a lot of anxiety," he said. "I was an All-Star. When you can't figure it out and you're trying your hardest and not feeling right and competing against some of the best guys in the world, it's tough to have confidence. But my family and teammates were there at the end of the day.
"I also had to look at myself in the mirror, I had to look myself in the face and man up."
Braves manager Brian Snitker said Foltynewicz missing so much time during spring training meant he was forced to play catch-up all year — and it finally caught up to him.
"A healthy start is the key to having a good start," Snitker said. "I think spring training is all about the pitchers. Position players come along before (pitchers) do. Spring training is for the starters. That's the only reason we have all these games."
Foltynewicz said his first start this spring couldn't have gone much better. Using mainly his fastball and changeup, he gave up one hit — though it was a home run — struck out three batters and walked none in two innings Tuesday as the Braves and the Minnesota Twins played to a 4-4 tie.
"I wasn't going to throw curves or sliders, so I mixed in the fastball and changeup," he said. "They seemed aggressive. Every change I threw, they'd swing and miss or foul the ball. I've been working on that change since I was traded from Houston (after the 2014 season).
"All the elite guys throw it and have success with it. When guys are geared up for the fastball and you have that change in the back pocket, you can put that in their minds. And it seems to cause a little trouble, based on how guys will talk when they go to the bench."
Even the homer, he said, just missed in location.
"It was a good pitch," Foltynewicz said, "but at the same time, a good swing."
Though a little nervous before Tuesday's start, he found his return to mound proved to be great therapy.
"I want to prove to the team and teammates who I am, why I'm here and what I can do," he said. "It's a good start to get out of the way. I want to put 2019 behind me and really go this time."