The dominoes fell within the Braves pitching staff Thursday after starter Kris Medlen was diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
With Medlen on the 15-day disabled list, the Braves will purchase the contract of prospect Mike Minor from Triple-A Gwinnett. The left-hander will start Monday’s game in Houston and remain in the rotation for the short term, Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
The Braves optioned Kenshin Kawakami to Gwinnett, where he’ll make at least four minor-league starts in an effort to build his stamina for a possible return to the starting rotation. Kawakami has pitched just once in the past 40 days since losing his spot in the rotation to Medlen.
Because Medlen’s injury was a partial and not complete tear, the Braves did not immediately schedule season-ending “Tommy John” surgery for the right-hander. Rather, the team will see if rest and rehabilitation to avoid an operation that will take 12 months to recover.
“The protocol for these things is to let them calm down and see how they respond because it’s not completely torn,” Wren said. “Then you get a better idea of what the next step is.”
Braves pitchers Tim Hudson and Peter Moylan have both had very successful returns from Tommy John surgery. An MRI exam Thursday revealed the partial ligament tear and team orthopedic doctors Xavier Duralde and Gary Lourie were to also look at the MRI results Thursday.
“When it happens on one pitch like that you know something [serious] happened,” Medlen said. “It’s discouraging. I’m going to try the rehab thing and see if it helps out and heals before I need to jump to any conclusions. …
“Anytime you have an arm injury it’s a steep hill to climb. I’m just going to approach it positively and hope everything works out for the best.”
The Braves recalled right-hander Cristhian Martinez from Gwinnett to take Medlen’s roster spot.
Minor travelled with the G-Braves for a game at LeHigh Valley on Thursday, where he was to pitch two innings before joining the Braves.
Wren said the team would wait and see how Minor performed at the major-league level and how Kawakami performed in his minor-league starts before making a decision about the future rotation.
“We’ve never been one to worry about a service clocks,” Wren said about the decision to purchase the contract of Minor. “We haven’t worried about it to this point and we are not going to start now. We feel like a team that has a chance to win.”
Wren said that Kawakami accepted the move to Gwinnett with the understanding of the purpose of the assignment. In his one bullpen appearance, on July 16th against Milwaukee, Kawakami allowed three earned runs and hit hits in one inning.
“He was great,” Wren said. “We explained everything to him. This is not about being demoted because of performance. It’s about we need you to go down and get stretched back out. There is a plan of what we want him to accomplish down there and what we want him to accomplish here.”