Phoenix — When the Braves won five of their last six on the homestand and swept Toronto, did anyone imagine they’d be in the position they’re in today? That is, having lost five of six on this trip to San Francisco and Arizona?
Even the most pessimistic person on ye olde Braves/MIB blog probably figured the Braves could win two or three games on this trip. Right?
Well, they can still win two. But they’ll need to do it today with the rookie, Kris Medlen, facing Max Scherzer, a good young pitcher whose awful luck seems finally to have turned.
Remember Scherzer from a couple of weeks ago, when he beat the Braves with six scoreless innings of four-hit ball? Up until then, Scherzer had been 0-7 in 22 major league games (13 starts) despite a solid 3.39 ERA, .235 opponents’ average and 95 strikeouts with 34 walks in 87-2/3 innings.
The Diamondbacks had almost never scored more than a run or two while he was in games, and about half the time they scored none while he was in.
But beginning with that win in Atlanta, Scherzer is 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three quality starts, and the D’backs scored five and six runs while he was in the wins (he got no decision against Florida while posting 10 strikeouts and three runs allowed in six innings, with only two support runs).
Anyway, he’ll face a kid who’s still feeling his way. Medlen is 0-2 with a 9.72 ERA in two starts, with a .226 opponents’ average that’s good, but a .385 opponents’ OBP that most definitely is not. He’s issued seven walks and hit a batter in 8-1/3 innings, plus thrown a couple of wild pitches and balked once.
There’s no question about Medlen’s talent. He’s got enough. He’s got a nasty curveball and a good three-pitch repertoire with a fastball that’s plenty hard.
But the impeccable pitch command he had in the minors, which is a big thing that got him here, has been affected a few times by pressure or nervousness, however you want to put it. Basically it’s been bad inning so far in each of his two starts, bad enough innings to spoil his and the team’s chances of winning.
In Medlen’s debut against Colorado, with his parents and girlfriend down in the primo SunTrust Club seats that Derek Lowe gave them for the game, Medlen was doing OK until he failed to retire any of four Colorado batters in a five-run fourth inning, when he hit pitcher Aaron Cook with the bases loaded.
Last week in a four-run second inning at San Francisco, Medlen walked pitcher Tim Lincecum on five pitches to load the bases with two outs, before each of the next two batters drove in two runs.
Something about facing the pitcher in a sticky situation, I guess. Or just a fluke, more likely, that it’s happened against the pitcher twice. Now, if he hits Scherzer with a pitch today with runners on base and the game in the balance, well, then the Braves and Medlen might have a problem.
If you’ve met the guy or seen interviews with him, or just looked at that baby face beneath that flat bill of his cap, you’re probably pulling for Medlen, and not just because he’s pitching for the Braves. You can’t help but feel bad for the kid when he’s been out there getting rattled in a couple of innings so far.
I mean, there’s been so much scrutiny on him because he was the guy called up in front of his good friend and roommate, the People’s Choice prospect, the towering Braves Ace of the Future, Tommy Hanson
But Medlen can’t help it that he had a better ERA and WHIP (walks-plus-innings pitched) than Hanson at the time, when the Braves were looking to bring up the guy with the hot hand for a start or three before Tom Glavine
’s anticipated return. (Glavine will make one more rehab start, at Single-A Rome on Tuesday, and barring any setbacks, will likely join the Braves’ rotation during the upcoming 10-game homestand).
The timing worked out, and if Charlie Morton
or Hanson had been dominating in their three or four starts just before the Braves made their decision, as those two have been dominating since, well, maybe they’d have gone with one of them.
As I mentioned a couple days ago, Morton’s name was on the list of Braves on the numerical roster printed on the lineup cards distributed in the pressbox here in Arizona the first couple of games in the series.
It seems a pretty obvious sign that the Braves had considered using Morton in this start today against Arizona, after Medlen
But there was nothing in Medlen’s makeup or performance in the minors to suggest he might be especially rattled in his first couple of starts. Quite the contrary. The little man has moxie. It’s just not been real apparent here yet in the majors, because he’s looked nervous and he’s fallen behind too early.
It’ll be interesting to watch him today. The Braves badly need a win before they go home, so they can at least avoid losing both series (a win would give them a split of this four-gamer) and the worst road trip they’ve had in a while.
They had three 1-5 trips last season, but none worse than that. A loss today would leave them with a 1-6 scar of a record for this roadie.
Perhaps the Braves could do the kid a favor and jump out to an early lead against Scherzer, maybe help Medlen relax a bit. He doesn’t have the home crowd or the familiar sites and sounds of Atlanta here, which might be good. Less pressure, you know? Maybe. We’ll see.
♣ OK, here we go. Game’s on. In a good mood after hearing Van’s “Tupelo Honey” on the stadium PA during batting practice. By the way, for those who might have missed it in comments this morning on the last blog, Matt Diaz is in right field today. Bobby Cox said he wanted to give strugging Jeff Francoeur a day off, after having Diaz spell center fielder Jordan Schafer yesterday (at least for the first five innings, before Cox brought in Schafer for defensive reasons with the Braves ahead 2-0).
Oh, and I talked to Chipper Jones again this morning about his foot, since he’s limping so noticeably. He said the toe’s not feeling any better, even though the dark bruising has faded and most of the swelling is gone.
The fact that it still aches has him concerned, but he said he was told that an MRI wasn’t needed yet because X-rays indicated there was nothing in the way of ligament or other tissue damage. He just has really bad feet, with the bunions and all, and he’s going to have these problems.
That said, the Braves doctors also indicated that if it didn’t get better, they’d recommend an MRI. That could happen during the long (10-game) homestand that starts Tuesday.
Chipper said if it doesn’t get any better soon, he might “have to get off of it.” In other words, DL. But for now, he and the Braves hope that can be avoided.
♣ That’s it. Game’s about to start. We’ll close with one of my favorite Lucinda Williams tunes, which she did during her terrific show last night at the Mesa Arts Center. Seen her seven or eight times in the past 15 years, and that show was probably the best of them all. If you get a chance, go check out Lu with her remarkable band, Buick 6, which has to be the most rockin’ band she’s had.
“PINEOLA” by Lucinda Williams
When Daddy told me what happened
I couldn’t believe what he just said
Sonny shot himself with a 44
And they found him lyin’ on his bed
I could not speak a single word
No tears streamed down my face
I just sat there on the living room couch
Starin’ off into space
Mama and Daddy went over to the house
To see what had to be done
They took the sheets off of the bed
And they went to call someone
Some of us gathered at a friend’s house
To help each other ease the pain
I just sat alone in a corner chair
I couldn’t say much of anything
We drove on out to the country
His friends all stood around
Is where we lay him down
I saw his mama, she was standin’ there
His sister, she was there too
I saw them look at us standin’ around the grave
And not a soul they knew
Born and raised in Pineola
His mama believed in the Pentecost
She got the preacher to say some words
So his soul wouldn’t be lost
Some of us, we stood in silence
Some bowed their heads and prayed
I think I must’ve picked up a handful of dust
And let it fall over his grave
I think I must’ve picked up a handful of dust
And let it fall over his grave