Braves right-hander Kris Medlen left Wednesday’s game against the Mets with a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow and could be facing season-ending surgery.
The 24-year-old starter is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Thursday and is headed for the disabled list.
Just the designation “ulnar collateral ligament” is a scary proposition for Medlen and the Braves because that’s the elbow ligament for which pitchers require “Tommy John” ligament transplant surgery and typically need 12-18 months to recover. Medlen said he felt a burning sensation on one pitch to Jose Reyes.
“No pop or anything, it just started burning, really tight,” Medlen said. “I don’t know. I’ve never felt it before, so it was reason for some kind of concern.”
If Medlen needs surgery, the Braves would lose him for the rest of the season and likely at least half of next.
The Braves have Kenshin Kawakami in the bullpen whom they could put back in the rotation. But he has pitched just once in the past six weeks – in relief against the Brewers on July 16 – since losing his starting job to Medlen. And Kawakami is 1-9 with a 4.48 ERA in 15 starts this season.
“I don’t know,” Cox said when asked if he’d turn to Kawakami. “He hasn’t pitched in so long.”
The Braves appear poised to turn to minor league prospect Mike Minor. The left-hander and last year’s first-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt, is 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in five starts for Triple-A Gwinnett.
Medlen left with one out in the fifth inning, after giving up a single to Luis Castillo and a sacrifice bunt to pitcher Mike Pelfrey. He had just thrown a 1-2 change-up to Reyes, when he immediately favored his right arm. He hesitated before taking the rubber again, which drew Braves manager Bobby Cox and assistant trainer Jim Lovell out to the mound.
“When I try to mess with it and test it a little bit, there’s definitely a little bit of pain,” Medlen said afterward. “Just disappointed.”