After eight straight losses, the Braves made a move they think can cure some of the starting pitching ills that have plagued them lately, by sending Kris Medlen to the minors to stretch out for a move into a starter’s role.
The Braves announced Tuesday that they had optioned Medlen to Triple-A Gwinnett and scheduled him for three starts there to build up his arm strength. They recalled outfielder Jose Constanza to fill in on the roster for at least for a few days.
The weak links in the Braves rotation have been Mike Minor and Randall Delgado, who had combined to go 2-8 with a 6.18 ERA over 16 starts entering Delgado’s start Tuesday night against the Cardinals.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said no decision will be made about whose spot in the rotation Medlen could fill because a lot can happen in the next 15 days or so, and it depends on how all those concerned are pitching.
“Who knows?” Gonzalez said. “…That at least adds some depth to us as a starting rotation.”
For Medlen this is a chance to return to a role where he’s flourished. The Braves went 13-1 in Medlen’s 14 starts during the 2010 season, while he went 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA.
“It’s hard to be positive about it when you get sent down,” said Medlen, who’ll report to Gwinnett on Wednesday. “But I know the intentions of it, and overall I’m really excited about the opportunity. I just hope as a group we start playing better and win games.”
Unlike that 2010 season when Medlen built up at the major league level, this time the Braves want him to stretch out in a risk-free environment. He could make his first start on Friday or Saturday, depending on where he falls into the rotation. Jair Jurrjens is scheduled to start Friday for Gwinnett, and the Braves don’t want to disrupt the progress he’s making in his stint there.
Medlen threw 42 pitches in 2 2/3 innings of relief on Monday. He’ll throw 55-60 pitches in his first start and build up to about 100.
“When we did that in 2010, I was going three innings and then next game four innings, and you can’t do that to the bullpen and our team,” Medlen said. “I totally understand.”
The Braves told Medlen in spring training he might move into rotation at some point during the season, but they but saw him as a valuable piece to the bullpen so they wouldn’t overwork Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. But now Gonzalez said they can cover with Cristhian Martinez and Livan Hernandez in long relief.
In the short-term, Gonzalez said he could use one of his starters to cover an extra inning or two in relief if need be, on a day that starter was normally scheduled for a bullpen session. Gonzalez said he also has some flexibility with upcoming off days on Thursday and Monday.
Gonzalez said the Braves have been planning to pitch Medlen no more than 150-155 innings this year, his first full season after elbow reconstruction surgery. He’s thrown 28 1/3 innings so they figure he can get through the rest of the season making 21 or 22 starts and still come in under 150.